Canada's customs officers need guns for their protection, says study
MONTREAL (CP) - Customs officers need to carry guns, just like the police, because of the dangerous situations and injuries they face, a news conference was told on Tuesday.
A study done for their union also says the Canadian-U.S. border is too porous and recommends a mobile border patrol that would step in to help with security.
"From assaults, to intimidation to being take hostage, these officers are faced with a daily reality - the risk to their lives and to the Canadian public is an everyday fact exacerbated by the unpredictability of human behaviour," says the study.
The study was done by the Ottawa-based Northgate Group, a private security intelligence firm.
Ron Moran, national president of the Customs Excise Union, said the federal government doesn't want to recognize how the nature of their work has changed.
The job has "evolved from one that was historically focused on generating revenue at the border to one that is now clearly more focused on law and order and security," Moran told the news conference.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has said he would allow border guards to carry sidearms, echoing a pledge also made by NDP Leader Jack Layton.
Moran says the federal government's own studies in the 1990s have also recommended border agents carry sidearms.
Front-line customs officers have been empowered to enforce the Criminal Code, which includes arresting drunk drivers and criminal fugitives, since July 2000.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, head of Northgate, said U.S. border agents are armed and the "vast majority of countries have agents that are armed" unlike Canada.
"The marching order for (Canadian) custom officers is that if they are aware of a violent situation, an armed person, a violent person who is coming to their workplace, they have to withdraw," Juneau-Katsuya said.
The Canada Border Services Agency said Tuesday that it's studying the report.
"We always consider suggestions from people to improve the security of our borders and the safety of our officers," said spokeswoman Kara Prest.
"They have to let the person enter Canada and to call the police officers or the police and hope they will intercept."
The Northgate study also recommends that regional customs investigators and intelligence officers also be armed with sidearms, similar to what police officers carry. It also recommends that border personnel shouldn't be working on their own without backup.
Copies of the study will be given to leaders of Canada's political parties as well as to the president of the Canada Border Services Agency.
Moran said he wants Canada's auditor general to investigate the institutional integrity and operational competence of the Canadian Border Services Agency.
©The Canadian Press, 2006