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Border guard kept busy
International visitors, businesses find way to Canada through Inuvik

Samantha Stokell
Northern News Services
Thursday, September 8, 2011

Inuvik may not be as isolated as many residents think.

NNSL photo/graphic

Border Services Officer Bill Grant points to Herschel Island, where much of his customs work is done. As the only member of the Canada Border Services Agency in Inuvik, he processes all ships and aircraft entering Canada. - Samantha Stokell/NNSL photo

Though the North has seen an upswing in interest in recent years from international travellers and businesses, the Canadian Border Services Agency has actually had an office in Inuvik since 1969.

Bill Grant, a 28-year veteran with the agency, has spent five months in Inuvik for the past three years working as the only Canadian border services officer north of the Arctic Circle. While the office is open from February to November, Grant splits the 10 months with two other officers. He spends from July to November working out of the office on Kingmingya Road or at the Inuvik Airport.

"We process all international aircraft that come through the Inuvik Airport, some military, some charters from Alaska," Grant said. "We are also involved in the processing of vessels that enter Canadian waters. This includes cruise ships, tugs bringing in barges from the U.S., large commercial shipments of fuel and general goods. Finally, we deal with smaller Arctic explorer vessels, sailboats, touring the Canadian Arctic."

In 2010, the office processed 18 aircraft with 121 individuals, and 19 arriving vessels, 11 outgoing vessels and 530 individuals. To date in 2011, the agency has processed seven aircraft and 34 individuals, and four arriving vessels, one outgoing vessel and 533 individuals.

While Grant is based out of Inuvik, he is also responsible for processing all customs business in Tuktoyaktuk. He also travels to Herschel Island to greet vessels coming in from American waters, whether they are large transport vessels or sailboats cruising the Beaufort Sea.

Before anyone or anything can disembark, Grant must go out and check all packages and passports, as well as the health of all individuals on board. This goes for arrivals into the country and people exiting. This summer alone he's seen ships and passengers from all over the world: Russia, Germany, Luxembourg, England, Croatia, United States and Poland to name a few.

Since the death of Canadian Border Services' last full-time employee in Inuvik three years ago, it has had rotating staff members, but is possibly looking for a person locally to fill the position. Grant recommends the work.

"I love everything about my job," Grant said. "I love meeting people and training the new people."

He said he sincerely loves the community and wouldn't keep coming back if it wasn't such a stellar experience.

Grant who hails from Winnipeg has worked in a number of different aspects of customs and immigration. He started working in Snowflake, Man., on the Canada/U.S. border and then became the first detector dog handler in the Prairie Region. He also worked for several years at Emerson, Man., on the flexible response team which travelled from port of entry to port of entry doing special enforcement projects.

Inuvik doesn't compare to the other posts he's worked at, which have included Winnipeg and Churchill Man.

"Emerson is busy around the clock and you don't talk to the other people in the office except on your coffee break and lunch, and Winnipeg has 15 to 20 international flights per day," Grant said. "(Inuvik) is either super busy, or very quiet and I'll visit with the Coast Guard."

Seeing as Grant is the only staff member, he works with a number of different agencies: the RCMP, Coast Guard, Parks Canada, Transport Canada, the Canadian Rangers on Herschel Island and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"Without everybody co-operating, we couldn't do our job," Grant said. "Everybody we work with is amazingly helpful. The RCMP in Tuk are out of this world. I honestly can't say enough about them."

With retirement coming up soon, Grant looks forward to one more summer in Inuvik next year, his fourth.

The office is open until the end of November and can answer queries about immigration as well as customs concerns.

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