Border incidents prompt promises of guns for Canadian agents

| Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Canadian justice official says it’s a “practical matter” and also a matter of time before Canadian border agents are equipped with guns.

Member of Parliament Vic Toews of Manitoba was a justice critic for the Conservative Party when the Conservatives were the official opposition to the Liberal Party that held power for 13 years.

The Conservatives gained control of the federal government in the election Monday, Jan. 23, under Prime Minister-elect Stephen Harper.

Toews told The Canadian Press following the election that his party would uphold a campaign promise to arm the nation’s border guards.

The announcement is timely for reasons not limited to the election, but because criminal incidents in recent weeks have forced both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border into action.

Canadian border agents have to call in outside help or retreat from their posts when faced with danger like the high-speed chase on Tuesday, Jan. 24, that involved two murder suspects on the U.S. side.

“I understand their concerns very well and don’t fault them,” Toews told The CP.

American agents stopped the suspect vehicle and shot one of the fugitives before arresting both men.

Had that vehicle continued through the border crossing from Blaine, WA, into Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, the authority would have switched to local or federal authorities and not the Canadian Border Services Agency.

Union officials representing CBSA employees have lobbied hard for better protection, and incidents like what happened Tuesday only bolster their position.

“I think they need to be armed,” British Columbia Solicitor General John Les told reporters from The CP this week.

The debate in the whole matter seems to be narrowing. Toews said he couldn’t understand why former Liberal Party leaders didn’t act sooner.

“It’s simply a practical matter of how soon these officers can be trained and the firearms issued to them,” he told The CP.

Back in November 2005, someone pointed a gun at a Canadian border agent, entered the country without incident, and disappeared. That person was later caught when he went back to the U.S., but he was no longer carrying the firearm.

Illegal firearms in Canada are proven factors in more violent crimes, and government officials have made entire campaigns out of the issue.

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