The federal government’s Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Case Processing Centre (CPC) in Vegreville, Alta. officially closed its doors on Friday.
The centre has been the subject of a contentious debate since the closure was announced by the federal Liberals in 2016.
“It was an array of mixed emotions,” said Michelle Henderson, union vice-president of Customs Employment and Immigration.
“We’ve had people that have been there for 24 years and worked there their whole career. It’s not just about closing an office and relocating it; it’s about almost losing parts of your family because you’re all so close.”
Employees marked their final week with an appreciation BBQ hosted by the town on Wednesday.
About 200 people worked at the document-processing centre at the time it was closed.
When the government announced the closure, it said the centre would be moved to Edmonton to improve access.
“Basically, anybody who was employed at the office in Vegreville was offered their job in Edmonton,” Henderson said, adding some staff retired, took other jobs or moved out of the province.
“(The government) still went forward with the relocation,” Henderson said. “I would love to see the department realize they could have a smaller satellite office in Vegreville, which is what we’ve been pushing for right from the beginning. We’ve pushed for telework and we’ve pushed for a satellite office.
“The type of work that we do, we don’t see anybody. We were set up there as a mail and processing centre only… Where we’re physically located was, as far as I’m concerned, a moot point.”
The community of Vegreville has a population of about 5,000 and is located about 100 kilometres east of Edmonton. In May 2017, the mayor said the move to Edmonton could cost the town more than seven per cent of its population.
John McCallum, the federal immigration minister at the time said his department had a made a strong business case for the relocation.
“The government inherited a completely broken immigration system, so our priority has to be to improve service, to reduce processing time, and to spend taxpayers’ money wisely,” McCallum told the House of Commons November 2016.
McCallum also sent a letter to Shannon Stubbs, the Conservative MP who represents voters in Vegreville, in which he wrote, “The relocation will also save money as the new office space will be located within the Government of Canada’s existing property inventory.”
According to the most recent data held by Statistics Canada, about 75 per cent of the federal government’s 315,500 employees work in large urban centres like Toronto or Montreal. About one-third of those or 135,900 work in the Ottawa—Gatineau region.
Henderson said the union heard Thursday it had won a grievance against the employer.
“Union filed a policy grievance basically saying the employer didn’t respect our collective agreement.”
Henderson said the union representative in Ottawa will work with the employer over the next 60 days or so to decide what steps should be taken now.