The Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence has released a report calling for an armed presence at all Canada-U.S. border crossings.
Senator Colin Kenny chaired the committee. The report, Borderline Insecure, says that serious damage to major land border crossings between Canada and the United States would have a profound impact on the Canadian economy.
It points out some glaring weaknesses that Canada has at its crossings that must be fixed and fixed quickly, or they will affect Canada’s economic future and national security.
The Committee suggests that the only way to twin good security with good commerce is to change the entire culture at border crossings.
Out of the Committee’s 26 recommendations, the report primarily emphasizes security over minor economics, suggesting Canada needs a system within which personnel on the crossings are border officers first and clerks second the reverse of the current situation, and within which there would be far less emphasis on the collection of duties and taxes at the border crossings.
It advises restructuring the personal exemption limits to allow the Canada Border Services Agency to better focus on security. (The restructuring should include harmonization with U.S. levels by 2007 and incremental bilateral increases to $2000 per visit by 2010.)
It also recommends giving inspectors the tools they need to do the job, and suggests they currently work with inadequate access to data systems designed to signal persons or vehicles which may be dangerous.
Furthermore, while inspectors routinely encounter persons in possession of firearms, they themselves are armed with only batons and pepper spray.
Inspectors at Canada’s land border crossings are currently instructed to phone either the RCMP or local police for support when situations involving violent and/or illegal behaviour arise, but evidence showed that such backup is often either slow or non-existent.
The committee says it 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 after successfully completing rigorous training in the use of such firearms. For inspectors hired in the future, this option would be a mandatory requirement.
New border infrastructure should be a national priority, says the report. Current land border crossings need to be redesigned to make them more efficient, and to provide for reverse inspection. Reverse inspection would essentially allow Canadian and U.S. inspectors to trade places and operate on the other country’s soil. This would allow them to scrutinize persons and cargo before they enter a crossing, the way U.S. immigration and customs officers currently operate at many Canadian airports.
Vital land border crossings also need backup, in case one goes down. Disabling a border crossing like the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario would have a devastating and long-lasting effect on Canada’s economy. Expanding crossing facilities is not sufficient. New structures need to be built to assure adequate redundancy in case of a disaster.
Additional recommendations are that the Canada Border Services Agency ensure that at least half of all shifts at land border crossings be staffed by at least two persons by Dec. 31, 2006; and that all shifts at all land border crossings be staffed by at least two persons by Dec. 31, 2007.
The Canada Border Services Agency should significantly increase its capacity to move extra personnel to posts during surge/emergency conditions, and that it document such an increase in capacity by Dec. 31, 2006.
Full details of the report’s recommendations can be viewed at www.senate-senat.ca/borders.asp.