Meet the people of the Canada Border Services Agency
You may know that the Canada Border Services Agency employs people to do a lot of different jobs: border services officers (BSOs) and investigators, but also clerks, IT people, scientists, engineers, and many others—but did you know we also have teachers? This month Border Voice talks to André Beaupré, an instructor and curriculum designer with the CBSA. André began working at a port of entry as a summer job more than 14 years ago and has never looked back: he has served as an immigration officer and program officer, and is now an instructor and curriculum designer.
Border Voice: André, what do you do at the CBSA?
André Beaupré: I work as a subject-matter expert in immigration, on a team that designs training, mainly for BSOs. And I also deliver training myself, mostly advanced courses in immigration.
BV: Tell us about your background. How did you get here from there?
André: I wanted to be a high school teacher, because the teachers I had loved were passionate about their subject. I remember a geography teacher I had: he was really passionate, and you could feel it every day in class. I was inspired by him, and I got my Bachelor's in Geography. I also studied anthropology, and I fell in love with this topic, especially ethnology—the study of cultures and ethnic groups. Then I did a second Bachelor's, in Pedagogy (Education), and at that time I got a job as an immigration officer. It started out as just another summer job, but I really fell in love with it because it fed my interest in anthropology, in ethnology. I was at Lacolle, which was a good place to learn, because you see so many different things: you welcome immigrants, you see refugees, you make arrests, you do removals, you issue work permits—you touch every part of the immigration program. So you learn very quickly, and within a year I became a senior immigration officer.
BV: Do you ever miss the frontline stuff?
André: Sometimes, yes. Sometimes I do miss 'the line.' I love people, so on the line I was really happy. But in the classroom I'm also very happy; when I'm delivering training I'm the happiest man in the world.
BV: So when did you first get involved in teaching?
André: Very early on: within a year of starting at immigration I taught my first course. It was a two-day course for the new student customs officers coming in. So once, in one of the customs classes we had a guy who called me 'preacher'—for years after, he would always call me preacher. I didn't know what he meant. I wasn't sure if he was making fun of me or what. I only found out years later that he meant it as a compliment. He called me preacher because I was so passionate about my subject. From that two-day course years ago, he was really inspired; he became an immigration officer, and he is now a supervisor.
A lively and enthusiastic instructor, André uses his talent for drawing to help explain complex concepts.
BV: What do you like about teaching?
André: I like relating to people; I like to be in a position to help people, to help them understand. Even before I was teaching, in my original position as a program officer, I was able to help people, help them understand how to apply the law, in this case the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The other thing is that I want to share my passion for the subject of immigration. Without passion I would not be much of a teacher; it's very important that you have a passion for the subject you're teaching.
BV: So you've come full circle: you started out wanting to be a teacher, then got a summer job in immigration, which turned into a career, and now you're a teacher.
BV: What kind of qualities does a person need to do your job?
André: Well, the first and obvious thing is that you need the ability to stand up and speak in front of people. I love to talk to people—even when I was young, I just loved to get up in front of people, make a presentation. You also need to be curious, because to teach you need to know much more than just what you're teaching. When I was in teacher training they called it the funnel: you have to take all your knowledge and funnel it down into what you're teaching. What you share in the classroom should be just the tip of the iceberg of your knowledge. And passion, which is related to curiosity, because the more excited you are about your subject, the more you are going to want to learn about it, and be attentive for new developments. So for me your passion and your knowledge are like two friends shaking hands.
BV: Could you give us an example?
André: Yes, some time ago I was applying for a job, and to prepare I was reading the Immigration Act, like a novel, from Section 1 to the end. At first it was a bit boring, but by reading the Act I learned so much. For example I learned that officers have the authority to seize vehicles that are used to smuggle people into Canada. It was widely believed that you had to get your supervisor's permission, but the law says the officer can make the seizure.
So we started to seize more cars at the port of entry where I was working at the time. In a year we seized something like 20 cars, when in the past 10 years they had seized only three or four. People would say there was no point in seizing rental cars because there is no impact—but it's just the opposite: even if the person is able to get the car back, it could be months later, and they would owe the rental company for every single day that the car was seized. And so we started to see real results—a real decrease in that type of smuggling. That's just one example of what you can do if you enjoy your subject, and if you're curious about it.
BV: Border Voice likes to give our readers a balanced picture, so we always ask: are there any downsides to your job?
André: When I'm in the classroom, I don't see any downsides; challenges yes, but not really downsides—so for example when you have a learner who is shy or just doesn't want to speak, you work to break down their resistance, their reluctance—but that's more of a challenge than a problem. If there is a downside, it's when I'm back at the office, not teaching, because I miss the interaction, the relating to people. But at the same time, that can also be positive. It gives me time away from teaching where I can consider how I might improve my next course, what I might do differently.
BV: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
André: I love the subject itself, because immigration deals with people: people from all over the world, from different backgrounds, different realities. And our job is to protect our country, but also to welcome people, and it's this job, this challenge, that I find the most interesting, where the officer is the point of balance between those two duties of the job. And I think we do need a lot of balance in the way we do our jobs—because a lot of good people are seeking admission to this country.
André in his office; he uses his ‘thinking line’ (at left) to organize ideas.
 Port of entry is a general term that refers to all points of entry into Canada by all modes of transport: air, land, sea.
 St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, a major highway port of entry on the Quebec–New York border.