Watchdog: Guards, guns could mean trouble

Posted by admin on Jun 17th, 2009

By JIM BRONSKILL The Canadian Press. Wed. Jun 17

OTTAWA — Canada’s border officers arrest people and carry guns just like the Mounties but lack proper oversight — a void that leaves Canadians exposed, says the RCMP’s watchdog. Paul Kennedy, chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, said it’s only a matter of time before there is a mishap involving one of the thousands of Canada Border Services Agency officers being trained to use guns.

If an RCMP officer shoots someone, a complainant can file a grievance with Kennedy.

But in the case of the border services agency, it’s less clear.

“If that happens, where do you as a citizen go?” Kennedy said in an interview.

Both the RCMP and CBSA enforce dozens of statutes along the Canada-U.S. border — the RCMP between points of entry, the border agency at the various ports and crossings.

Border officers have powers of arrest, detention and search and seizure, as well as the authority to take breath and blood samples, issue arrest warrants and operate detention facilities for immigrants. They also participate in multi-agency groups including border enforcement teams and integrated national security units.

“Clearly one of my concerns would be that if you have federal enforcement bodies doing similar things, you don’t want to have a risk of inconsistent findings or approaches or recommendations.

“The issue is, how do you justify models that are so strikingly different?”

Kennedy’s comments follow news that Sylvie Menard of Montreal was asked by border agents at the airport to drop her pants so they could see if she had a large pink tattoo on her buttocks.

It later became clear they had the wrong person. But Menard had difficulty figuring out where to lodge a complaint.

The border services agency says dissatisfied people can call a 1-800 number and complain. If they are unhappy with the resulting investigation, they can contact Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan or their MP.

Van Loan said Tuesday that by and large the conduct of border officers has been “very good.”

A new national security watchdog was recommended in 2006 by a federal inquiry that examined the ordeal of Maher Arar, a Canadian tortured in Syria over false terrorism suspicions. Justice Dennis O’Connor, who led the inquiry, called for an overhaul of the existing RCMP watchdog headed by Kennedy that would give it new powers to keep an eye on the Mounties’ intelligence activities.

O’Connor also called for stricter review of several other agencies involved in national security — including the border services agency — as well as a co-ordinating committee that includes various intelligence watchdog chairs to ensure smooth handling of complaints and probes.

Kennedy says while there has been a move toward more integrated policing since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, there has been no similar organized co-operation between oversight bodies.

“Obviously it is a government decision as to whether or not they wish to do anything about it, and when they wish to do anything about it,” he said. “But that certainly that doesn’t mean one can’t sort of scratch one’s head and say, well yes, there is obviously an issue there.”



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