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It’s time to arm Canada’s border officers

Blue Line Magazine
May 2007
Re: $1billion cost to arm border guards: my fellow citizens, you need to wake up and smell the coffee. Our Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers are peace officers, just like police officers, and are expected to perform a vital function in our country. Sure once upon a time our Customs Officers were little more than tax collectors; whose job was “protection of revenue” at the border. This is why Canada Customs once fell under the prevue of Revenue Canada, with their powers and authority coming from the Customs and Excise Act. Slowly their job became more law enforcement related.


In today’s post-911 world, the CBSA falls under the control of the federal Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Now more than ever our Customs Officers are our first line of defence against threats, both foreign and domestic, and they should be equipped properly. This includes giving them side-arms like other peace officers.

Now I know that some people say that if Customs Officers have any problems, they should just call the police and let them handle it. True, but that is living in an ideal world. While Customs Officers do work side by side with federal, provincial and municipal police officers (who have side-arms) on specific projects, this logic falls apart on many levels.

The average Customs Officer sitting in a booth at a lonely rural border crossing doesn’t have the luxury of the quick response that of those at more populated crossings such as Niagara Falls or Windsor would have. This of course does depend on the local police agency having an free officer nearby to respond to a call for service. With increasing demands being placed on police services of all levels, the wait times for a police response can sometimes fall into the dangerously unacceptable category.

Some may ask why not specifically place a police officer at all border crossings like they do at major airports like Toronto’s Pearson Airport? Well, this is where the argument that Customs Officers don’t need guns completely falls apart. Those who subscribe to this option are admitting that an armed law enforcement presence is needed at border crossings!! So why not take the officers that we already have at the border, the ones who know their turf better that anyone else, and give them side-arms.

Some may ask why not establish a border police agency. Besides the fact that is would cost a lot of money to build such an agency up from the ground, how would it be any better than using the resources that we have already.

Canada once had the Ports Canada Police Service (an armed police agency), whose job it was to provide security in Canada’s major ports. This agency was disbanded in 1997, leaving port enforcement responsibilities entirely to local police services and private security companies.

Those who think that Customs Officers are going to be any less competent and trained than police officers in the usage of firearms are kidding themselves. Police officers, just like Conservation officers, Fisheries Officers and Corrections Officers, must meet a yearly qualification standard in order to carry side-arms. Those who don’t meet standard are prohibited from carrying side-arms until they demonstrate the required proficiency. Even newly installed OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino will has to qualify in order to carry a sidearm. Bottom line, we as a country have to ask ourselves what kind of protection we want at the border. Do we want a bonifide law enforcement agency guarding our border? If so, we should treat them no differently than police agencies by equipping, training and paying them properly.

If we are happy with a “security guard” type of protection, then let’s send out tenders to security companies such as Burns, Pinkerton or Intelliguard. With this option, we wouldn’t need high education and training standards. We also wouldn’t need to pay them a lot of money, which may be reason enough for some to choose this option. Just don’t be surprised if a $10.00 an hour security guard walks off the job when an armed criminal approaches the border.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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