Border Services Officer Tamara Lopez is with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in the Greater Toronto Area and is also a director for Serving with Pride. She is a member of the CBSA’s Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, helping to educate others on LGBTQ2+ rights and history. An actor, TV host and Diamond Jubilee medalist, she was previously a guest on Blue Line, The Podcast. We share some of that illuminating conversation here.
By Renée Francoeur
Q: You began working with CBSA in 2005. As a graduate with a major in psychology and a minor in sexuality studies from the University of Windsor, why did you choose a career in law enforcement?
I think the job may have actually chosen me. I was unaware what border security was when I was in university. I stumbled upon a booth one day during a career fair at the University of Windsor. From the individuals there that were talking to me about it, I found the job interesting. I applied as a student officer and never looked back. The nice thing is I feel I use my degree in psychology in my job because understanding the human psyche and things like motivation really helps in this line of work.
Also, having taken a course on gay and lesbian studies, as well as co-creating the Out on Campus student group, obviously helps me in my quest to further advance the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community within law enforcement.
Q: What has been the most pleasantly surprising thing about your career?
Every day is a new beginning. As a line officer at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, no two shifts are ever the same. I’m constantly learning new skills and perfecting old ones as well. Another surprising thing about the job is the many different aspects and areas CBSA has under its portfolio. For example, we have passenger operations at the airports, which everyone will be familiar with of course, and traffic at land border crossings… There are postal operations at our international mail centres and there are also commercial operations at cargo warehouses, marine operations, plus training and learning opportunities — the list goes on. Your career never gets stale.
Q: What has been the most challenging?
At times, the most challenging part of the job can be establishing things like a good work/life balance. Law enforcement as a profession is 24/7 for all 365 days a year. Sometimes, people will not be prepared for that at first. So, there is some adjustment. There are resources to turn to. For example, we have an employee assistance program, which can offer resources for maintaining optimal health, a nutritionist or assistance with things like financial planning.
You also end up forming, I find, a really strong bond with your crew members, because you spend a lot of time with them on shift, working very long hours together.
Q: In 2017, the CBSA announced that it created its first LGBTQ2+ Committee and you quickly joined. What does this committee mean to you?
The minute they had announced they were forming the committee, I immediately put my name forward. The LGBTQ2+ Advisory Committee raises awareness and serves as a consulting body on issues that impact the CBSA LGBTQ2+ community. This committee is a safe and open forum for members to connect and discuss issues and the promotion of a healthy, inclusive work environment.
I should note, the LGBTQ2+ term is an umbrella term often used to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit community. It encompasses the diversity found within these communities. In order to represent the range of diversity, of course, the abbreviated acronym utilizes the plus symbol, as there’s roughly about 29 letters, I believe, in the actual acronym. So, for example, “a” for ally would also be in there as well; we obviously need allies for the community.
The committee means forward momentum and that the CBSA is moving in the right direction by identifying the need for a group to work on the investment in the agency’s LGBTQ2+ employees. It means recognizing such things like the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia or pride month or National Coming Out Day. It means a more inclusive work environment where we can be openly who we are.
Q: You’re also the host of Women As Career Coaches outside of work. What do you love about motivational speaking and working with a range of women of all ages?
Part of my vision is to showcase the fact that you can try on different career hats throughout your journey — before you figure out what you want to do. The model for Women As Career Coaches is just “because you wander doesn’t mean you’re lost.” And that is what I love. My career has been constantly evolving — both inside and outside of work — and being elected as a board member with Serving with Pride is another prime example of me trying on different hat.
What I love about motivational speaking is that I’m not the average motivational speaker. I’m a gay woman of colour in a uniform, and I want those in the audience to see that and understand that there is nothing holding you back — not your gender, not your race, not your sexual orientation. You can be all of those things or none of those things and still be successful. And our differences are what makes us stronger together.
Q: Sometimes, in the wider law enforcement discussion, other agencies, like those of correctional officers and CBSA officers, are left out and the focus is on the “traditional policing agencies”… what are your thoughts when it comes to ensuring CBSA is fully represented and recognized inside the big picture?
We are a federal institution that is part of the public safety portfolio. Ensuring the security of our borders as well as the safety of our frontline officers is a key priority for the Government of Canada. The CBSA is responsible for enforcing the law at designated ports of entry. We also get to work closely with our national and local law enforcement partners to do things like detect and prevent any illegal cross border activity — smuggling, human trafficking… We process millions of people and examine millions of mail parcels. Each year we see illicit drugs, weapons, or even arrest people that are found to be smuggling. And of course, throughout the course of our duties, we can enforce almost 90 if not over 90 pieces of legislation. We play a big role in public safety.
Listen to the full conversation on Blue Line, The Podcast here or wherever you listen to your podcasts under Annex Business Media: Podcasts.