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A changing of the guard

FORT ERIE, Ont. - After three decades spent protecting Canada's borders, John Johnston has hung up his badge.

FORT ERIE, Ont. – After three decades spent protecting Canada’s borders, John Johnston has hung up his badge.

Johnston, the regional director of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency’s Niagara Falls/Fort Erie division, will leave his office in the newly renovated and newly named Col. James Kirby Building in Fort Erie for the last time Sept. 21. That’s more than 28 years after he first slipped on the uniform of a Canada Customs records clerk in the ’60s.

“That was as low as it gets,” Johnston tells local media, adding he was soon promoted to the position of student customs inspector – a position he held off-and-on while he was working on his two university degrees.

After earning a masters degree in history and politics, he returned to Canada Customs and never left.
But at 54 years of age, Johnston says he has no intention of retiring. He has formed a Fort Erie-based consulting firm, called Brock International Associates. The firm has been contracted to help modernize the beleaguered and antiquated customs agency of Jamaica.

“Customs is customs,” says Johnston. “When we go down there, we hear about the same things we’re dealing with up here. They tell the same war stories.”

Johnston, who began his career when the principal role of the customs officer was the collection of duties and other customs-related fees, has been at the forefront of changes that have turned the agency into the protector of Canada’s borders. Today, customs officers have the power of arrest and are constantly on the look-out for contraband, drugs, guns and most recently, drunk drivers.

As for the future of Canada Customs, Johnston believes it will involve more programs directing attention where it is needed most — perhaps even a CanPass-type program for low-risk commercial carriers.

“The real art of this job is balancing our border-protection role with our economic responsibility to move people and goods across more efficiently and more quickly.”

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