OTTAWA, Ont. – Canada’s Customs workers may not be armed like their U.S. counterparts, but they will soon have pepper spray and collapsible batons at their disposal.
Bill C-18 has passed its first reading in the House of Commons on Dec. 1. Now the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency expects that within a year of May 2000, Customs officers at 32 ports of entry – as well as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver airports – will be carrying the devices.
The need comes with the bill’s new powers to arrest and detain individuals suspected of having committed offences under the Criminal Code, such as impaired driving, child abduction, or possession of stolen property, and individuals with outstanding arrest warrants.
“We stop short of issuing them firearms,” says Colette Gentes-Hawn, a Customs agency spokeswoman. “It’s the belief of this agency that the job can be better served without the presence of firearms (at any given port of entry).”
Starting in May 2000, customs officers at the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Canada tunnel in Windsor will be armed and ready. Other sites will follow.
“It won’t be every port of entry,” says Gentes-Hawn. “We’ve got some pretty small crossings where it’s just one officer who’s only there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” says Canada Customs Supt. Steve Bede, who works at the Woodstock, N.B crossing with Houlton, Me.
“I’m 6-3, 280, so I don’t have a lot of people coming on to me,” he admits. But, he adds, it could be more necessary for smaller officers.
“Truck drivers are historically big boys. They (officers) could be in a scenario where they could easily be overpowered,” he says. “It’s justified even if it’s used once, because it will have prevented an assault.”
Ultimately, the tools will be used just so officers could escape a violent situation, he adds. The batons will be a tool of last resort. n
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