Canada could arm airport customs officers

Posted by admin on Nov 25th, 2010

By Steven Chase, The Globe and Mail, November 25

The Canadian Border Services Agency is weighing arming its airport staff – who question returning travellers on taxes and duties owed – and has launched a study to assess their chances of “bodily harm or death” on the job. Ottawa has already issued handguns to border guards at land crossings and marine ports of entry but the border staff at airports have so far gone without handguns – in part because armed police and Mounties already patrol the terminals. The border agency says, however, it’s also considering giving firearms to uniformed officers at airports after hearing from staff.

“Officers sometimes find themselves in situations where they must deal with aggressive behaviour on the part of the public. This behaviour may include anything from threatening gestures during primary questioning to an unprovoked assault,” the CBSA said as it called for bids to conduct the study.

“Based on its three years of experience and further to feedback received from both employees and management the [agency] will reassess the threat level present within the CBSA areas in air terminals that receive arriving international and [cross-]border flights,” it continued.

“CBSA officers are the ‘first line of defense’ for Canada and there is a public expectation that they will have the training and tools necessary to safely carry out their mandate,” the agency’s call-for-bids document said.

The contract asks for a report within 45 days for the border agency that delivers “detailed conclusions regarding the risk to officer health and safety and the threat of bodily harm or death.”

The border services agency was unable to answer questions on the proposal Wednesday.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, however, said the CBSA is always reviewing the security of border services officers to ensure their safety.

Christopher McCluskey said the arming of border guards at land crossings was done to fulfill a Conservative Party election promise.

“It is important to note that unlike at land-border crossings, border services officers at airports are already supported by area police and the RCMP,” he said.

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