Duties for customs agents at North American border crossings
have changed significantly since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Gone are
the days when customs agents checked a few bags and concentrated on generating
But on the Canadian side, customs officials are still living
in the past, union officials claim, because Canadian border guards still don’t
The Customs Excise Union called a news conference this week
to cite a study done by Northgate Group, a private security intelligence firm.
The study claims lives are at risk because of a lack of first-line border
The union is calling on the federal government to allow
border guards to carry sidearms.
Government officials are paying attention, particularly
Parliament is in the midst of an election campaign.
Progressive Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper and New
Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton are both on record favoring the arming of
border guards. They are both challenging the Liberal Party and Prime Minister
Paul Martin, whose stance on the issue has not been made clear.
Past government studies, dating back to the 1990s, have
recommended the arming of border guards, according to The Canadian Press.
The role of Canadian customs officers began changing in
2000, when they became empowered to enforce the Criminal Code of Canada, which
includes the apprehension of fugitives.