Canada mulls arming of border agents

The Associated Press

A Senate report says customs agents and inspectors along the Canadian side of the world's longest unarmed border should carry firearms to help reduce terrorist threats.

In a report to be released Wednesday, the Senate Committee on National Security and Defense will recommend that Parliament consider arming customs officers along the 6,400-kilometer border with the United States. Senator Colin Kenny, chairman of the committee, provided details of the report in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.

Unlike U.S. Border Patrol agents, officers of the Canada Border Services Agency are not allowed to carry firearms. They are instructed to call the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or local police if they run into a threat and, as officers testified before the committee, that help is often extremely slow in coming.

"The committee has reluctantly come to the conclusion that if the federal government is not willing or able to provide a constant police presence at Canada's border crossings, current border inspectors must be given the option of carrying firearms," the report says.

The report also calls for legislation that would allow the deputy prime minister, who is also Canada's minister of public safety, to be given the authority to expedite border infrastructure construction and the right to eminent domain in the name of national security.

The Ambassador Bridge, which crosses the Detroit River between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, has often been considered a key target for potential terrorists. About one-fourth of the estimated US$1.4 billion (euro1.2 billion) in daily trade between the United States and Canada comes cross the bridge and adjacent tunnel and a blow to the bridge would devastate both economies.

Canada and the United States have pledged to build a second crossing over the river by 2013, but the private American company that owns and operates the Ambassador Bridge is attempting to expand it and double its capacity.

"We're against expanding the bridge," Kenny said. "Expanding the bridge does not give you the redundancy that you need if an Oklahoma bomber gets on that bridge and blows it up."

Another proposal calls for Canada to increase the amount of duty-free goods individuals can bring from the United States by 2010, freeing up customs agents to focus on potential threats to security rather than acting as tax collectors.

"Canada needs a system within which personnel on the crossings are border officers first and clerks second - the reverse of the current situation," the report says. "Raising personal exemptions for travelers will help border officers better direct their attention to border security rather than revenue collection."

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