In 2006, after years of fighting the bureaucracy, frontline officers of the Canadian Border Services Agency finally got authorization to carry sidearms on duty after training and demonstrating their competence with the weapons.
Border agents feel they are part of law enforcement and yet, for years the bureaucracy treated them more as glorified tax collectors merely in charge of collecting duty from travellers’ purchases.
Ahmed Ressam, the so-called Millennium Bomber as well as the 9/11 terrorist attached changed all that. Well, only to a point.
CBSA officers are the first point of contact for everyone coming into the country at all Ports of Entry, including international airports. They never know what they are facing until they are face-to-face with someone.
Since 2006 every CBSA officer has been trained and qualified to carry their service weapons; all new recruits go through weapons training as part of their basic training. In 2011, the agency granted its employees authorization to carry their issued weapons — the 9mm Beretta PX4 — at all Canadian airports when on duty.
But not so fast, said Transport Canada.
Transport Canada has a myriad of regulations that control what is permissible at Canadian Class 1 airports, one of which says only ‘peace officers’ may carry weapons in our airports. The snag is that Transport Canada does not classify CBSA officers as ‘peace officers.’
What exactly they are, according to Transport Canada, is not clear.
So as a result, CBSA officers must check their weapons into gun lockers when they get to their worksites at Class 1 airports.
Yes, that’s right. We don’t trust our own border officials with weapons they are trained to use in our own airports.
A Canada-U.S. preclearance agreement was codified in law in 2016 with Bill C-23, the Preclearance Act of 2016 by the Trudeau government which exempts US officers from criminal prosecution for possessing firearms but doesn’t authorize it because of the CBSA restriction. When CBSA officers take up their pre-clearance duties at US airports they will be allowed to carry their sidearms…but not in Canada as they perform their duties.
The dispute has been going on between CBSA and Transport Canada since at least 2014. The Privy Council Office even got involved to try and mediate the bureaucratic nonsense.
The sticking point seems to be that Transport Canada has taken the position that they, not CBSA, are responsible for “safety and security of the aviation system” and therefore they are the ones who determine who is allowed to carry firearms in airports.
For their part, the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) is frustrated. The CIU cites numerous incidents in defence of their position, including the seizure of weapons from travellers at airports.
While all Class 1 airports have armed police officers from the local jurisdictions patrolling as well as RCMP officers, they are not at the screening choke points where CBSA officers are interacting with travellers. If an incident were to occur, there would be a response lag before patrolling police officers could be there to support the CBSA officers.
Why are fully trained and equipped Canadian Border Services law enforcement officers working in Canadian airports forced to check their weapons into gun lockers?
Because in Canada, faceless bureaucrats make operational decisions for frontline officers.
Meanwhile, the most significant threat a bureaucrat faces is a paper cut.