Update: The Mercury has learned that the dog service at North Portal has been restored. For more on this story please see Wednesday's edition of The Mercury.
Some old-fashioned grassroots, political action is afoot to try and get the dog service restored at the North Portal Border Crossing.
In the most recent federal budget, it was announced that the Canada Border Services Agency must cut its budget by $143 million over the next three years. Shortly after the announcement, it was learned that over 1,100 CBSA employees had been given their layoff notice.
Among the lesser known measures taken by the CBSA was the elimination of the detector dog service at the North Portal Crossing which was comprised of Holly and her handler Tobin Tisdale. Up until the service was discontinued, Holly was the CBSA's only detector dog in Saskatchewan and had been used not only at the local crossing but also at the Regina and Saskatoon international airports and other border crossings in the province.
Concerned about the elimination of the service and its potential impact on the community, a group of local residents began placing posters around the area highlighting the cuts and asking people to contact Souris-Moose Mountain MP Ed Komarnicki.
Pat Dzuba, who spearheaded the poster campaign with her husband Sam, said they were spurred to action after learning the service would be eliminated.
"We absolutely need a drug dog, we have to have a drug dog," Dzuba said. "We have just been trying to help. We don't need any more drugs in Saskatchewan, or anywhere."
To get word of the cuts out, Dzuba began distributing posters and said the community has been very supportive of the effort to get Holly reinstated.
"I took them to the schools and to the hospital and everybody was great there. I put them on all of the bulletin boards. Somebody told me the other day they saw one in the Regina General Hospital."
Another group alarmed about the cuts is the union that represents the over 7,000 CBSA employees, the Canadian Immigration Union. Saskatchewan president Brea Lewis said not having Holly's services deprives the CBSA of an important tool against wrongdoers at border crossings in the province.
"Our closest dog for front line detection dogs is Emerson, Manitoba and Coots in Alberta," Lewis said.
Ron Moran, the CIU's national vice-president for the Prairies, said when the cuts were announced, they were told that front-line staff would not be affected. However, they have since come to learn that in Saskatchewan not only has Holly been cut, five intelligence officers, including one who was stationed in Estevan are on the chopping block.
"These are people we rely on to target commercial cargo, to gather intelligence, to analyze what importers have a history. These, by our definition are all front-line jobs and certainly cutting 19 dog handlers, one of which is the only dog in this province, is by every definition front-line work."
Lewis added that North Portal is the busiest crossing in Saskatchewan and that Holly and Tisdale were the port's fastest tool for drug detection. She said the duo also worked throughout the rest of the province for the CBSA and other agencies.
"Corrections has often used Tobin and Holly as well," she said. "They have a letter of acknowledgement from a correctional institution. Not only is it a loss for the agency, it is a loss for the entire province."
The Mercury learned Monday there is hope the service could be restored at North Portal thanks in part to the local campaign. In an interview, Komarnicki said he has been receiving a number of contacts and e-mails about the matter and has since been in touch with the minister responsible for the CBSA. Komarnicki said those talks have left him "reasonably certain" the dog service will be preserved.
"It certainly caught the attention of quite a few people and I have certainly been advocating on behalf of maintaining the position because of what is happening on both sides of the border. It is a very busy port in Saskatchewan and as we know, there is a lot of industrial, oil and economic activity on both sides of the border and having the capabilities that (Holly) has would be advantageous."
Komarnicki had not received final word before The Mercury went to press.
Repeated calls to the Canada Border Services Agency media relations office in Ottawa for a comment were not returned.