For years, Danielle Getzie had her dream job. One of those all-consuming jobs, nothing else matters because I’ve made it.
She was part of the Canada Border Services Agency’s selective dog training program, tracking down contraband at the Vancouver airport with her drug-sniffing canine companion, Nova.
“I would have considered, and I did consider, not having a family because of my job, because it was so important to me,” she said from her home in Vancouver.
“It was well known that to be a dog trainer you couldn’t have a family or think about having a family, or else you would be removed under the policy.”
That policy limits the time CBSA Detection Dog Service handlers can be away from their animals to 90 days, making maternity leave and life as a new mom nearly impossible.
Getzie said her superiors even told her it was better not to get pregnant.
“And then as time went on, I started to question that…and then I realized how bad it was.”
That realization sparked a years-long fight with the border agency, one that has landed on the desk of CBSA President Erin O’Gorman.
“The levels that retaliation reached very, very [exceeded] what I thought might have happened,” Getzie told Breaking:.
In 2018, Getzie said she decided to complain about the detector dog policy, arguing that it discriminated against those taking maternity and paternity leave. She filed the complaint after seeing a colleague return within 89 days of having a baby.
“It was horrible what he had to do to get settled and get back to the workplace,” he said.
Getzie said the fight turned personal when she realized during the grievance process that she was pregnant.
During the initial complaint period, the regional CEO agreed with her and, according to a copy of the decision obtained by Breaking:, found her complaint valid. The adjudicator also wrote that the dog handlers manual should be amended.
“I’ll never forget it in the end,” Getzie said, crying. “He stood up and gave me a big hug and said, ‘Go take care of your family because this should never have happened.'”
But the victory was short-lived, he said.
Getzie alleges that his colleagues conducted a smear campaign
The 90-day policy remains on the books. And Getzie alleges that his complaint triggered years of retaliatory intimidation and harassment.
Getzie accuses the managers of being complicit in a smear campaign to remove her from the dog team, even though she won national competitions. In an official complaint filed with the CBSA, she accused her co-workers of threatening to destroy and demote her at her workplace after she filed her complaint.
“I’ve been threatened that ‘if it were up to me, you wouldn’t be in this position’ and ‘if you ever cross me, I’ll screw you over,'” a copy of his complaint reads.
With Nova set to retire at age 11, Getzie said, she was promised a second dog. Instead, she alleges that she was suddenly removed from the dog training program for no reason.
Getzie said he tried to raise the matter internally before going public.
“I just wanted to go back to work and do my job and do what I loved. But I was continually terrified,” she said.
“I kept going to management saying this is getting worse, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, I just want to work and do my job.
“The advice I got from management was to hide, don’t go to these areas where these people are, don’t go here, just stay away from this person, just stay away from that person.”
In 2020, Getzie took his case to the CBSA’s National Center for Integrity Experts (NICE), a centralized unit set up to independently respond to allegations of inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
“It’s called the NICE unit and it’s not nice,” said Getzie, who now has a doctor-ordered license.
Despite a federal law that stipulates that CBSA harassment complaints must be resolved within one year and one day, Getzie said her nearly three-year-old case appears to have stalled.
“It’s sickening to think that any workplace could be like this, let alone a federal government workplace,” he said.
CBSA defends 90-day policy
Earlier this year, Immigration and Customs Union President Mark Weber wrote to the CBSA director accusing an investigator of pressuring Getzie to destroy the recordings and stall the case.
Weber said investigators haven’t even begun to review most of the allegations in Getzie’s case in nearly three years.
“We reached out to the current CBSA president, because really this case is one of the most extreme that we’ve seen,” he told Breaking:.
“There seems to be a real unwillingness to get to the root of the toxicity.”
CBSA denied an interview request, saying it could not discuss the details of Getzie’s case due to the Privacy Act.
“The CBSA is committed to creating a safe, healthy, harassment and violence-free work environment for all employees,” spokeswoman Rebecca Purdy said in an emailed statement.
“That responsibility is taken seriously, and CBSA management is responsible for making decisions that provide a respectful and professional work environment for everyone at all times.”
Weber said if that’s true, the CBSA should get rid of its 90-day license policy for dog handlers.
“I mean, it’s really shocking that in the 21st century our union has to waste time arguing a process that is really so clearly discriminatory,” he said.
“Any woman who decides to have a child has lost her dog. And it’s really that simple as a choice for women who choose this career.”
The CBSA defends the 90-day absence policy, arguing that it is necessary to maintain the skills of the detection dog.
“As a handler and detector dog become a team and develop a bond through our intensive training program, it has been shown that after 90 days of absence, the detector dog’s effectiveness decreases significantly and may be necessary back to training,” Purdy said.
“When the license exceeds 90 days, the dogs are returned to CBSA College for evaluation and reassignment to another handler to ensure a detection dog team remains operational full-time. However, reassignment creates a certain amount of stress on the dog, and it can’t always be achieved successfully.”
Union says he’s ‘shouting into the wind’
Purdy acknowledged that the agency is supposed to resolve complaints within a year and a day.
“That being said, some external factors can affect the schedule, including the absence of the parties involved. If the matter goes to investigation, there may also be delays in carrying it out,” he said.
“The absence of the parties involved continues to be a factor, as well as the investigator selection process, since options are limited and must be agreed upon by all parties.”
Purdy said the CBSA is working with Public Service and Procurement Canada to identify more outside investigators.
He also said that the purpose of the federal government’s Prevention of Violence and Harassment in the Workplace Regulations “is not to find fault, nor does it offer any personal remedy.
“Rather, your goal is to determine the root cause of [an] occurrence to recommend systemic measures to prevent the recurrence of harassment and violence”.
Weber said it’s a broken process.
“The best we can hope for from going through the NICE process are recommendations on how to make harassment and discrimination less likely in the future,” he said.
“It does not provide any type of personal remedy for Danielle. It will not lead to any type of discipline or consequences for anyone who put her through this.”
Weber said the Getzie case points to a broader problem within the CBSA. The union argues that border officers do not have a fair process to fall back on if they face harassment from a manager.
“It feels like we’re shouting into the wind,” he said.
“The situation we’re in right now is essentially, if it’s a manager doing it, we don’t really know where to go with him to see some kind of action taken, or [for] there will be no follow-up.”
Similar accusations have been leveled against the RCMP for years. Following a $125 million class action lawsuit, the RCMP established an independent center to investigate allegations of harassment and violence outside the chain of command.
More than once, the federal government has submitted proposed legislation to allow members of the public to report concerns about CBSA members to an independent body.
Bill C-20 would create a Public Complaints and Review Commission that would give the existing RCMP watchdog additional responsibility for handling public complaints about the CBSA.
Weber said he would like to see that bill amended to allow CBSA employees to file complaints as well.
A scathing 2020 auditor’s general report found that CBSA knew about current issues with bullying, discrimination, and violence at their workplaces, but did not do enough to address them.
CBSA said it has implemented all three of the report’s recommendations, including one to establish the National Center for Integrity Experts.
Weber said the problem persists.
The union said that of more than 2,000 complaints filed against the CBSA that are in the final stage, about 13 percent involve discrimination and harassment.