Welcometo gun-totin’ Canada, eh?

Published on Thu, Jun 23, 2005 by eg Olson

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Welcome to gun-totin’ Canada, eh?

By Meg Olson

Canadian senators want to see the face at the Canadian border look more like its U.S. counterpart: armed and focused on people instead of goods.

In a June report titled “Borderline Insecure,” the Canadian Senate Committee on National Security and Defense recommends that Canada “change the entire culture at border crossings.”

The committee has spent the last three years looking at security at the U.S./Canada border and has found it lacking. Rejecting the idea of strong North American perimeter defense as a sufficient shield for Canadian security, the report urges that Canada get in line with U.S. efforts to tighten up North American land borders. “With good border security, we can protect our own country as well as be a good neighbor to a country that is vitally important to Canadians, politically and economically,” it states.

In the report the committee makes 26 recommendations members think are necessary to ensure Canada’s economic future and national security. One of the top three recommendations is to significantly raise the personal exemption limit to allow cross-border shoppers to bring back more into Canada without paying duty. “There should be far less emphasis on the collection of duties and taxes at our border crossings,” the report states. “The emphasis placed on collecting them steals valuable time from inspectors, who should be provided with an improved opportunity to focus on their security responsibilities.”

The senate committee recommendation is to restructure personal exemption limits to match the U.S. limits, and then raise them. “Large corporations have clearly benefited from free trade. Retailers and consumers in general should be provided with increasing opportunities to share the benefits,” it states.

Today, U.S. residents can bring home $200 in goods every trip across the border and can return with $800 in goods after a trip lasting longer than 24 hours. For Canadians there is no personal exemption for trips under 24 hours and it’s only $50 for trips 24 to 48 hours long, going up to $750 after a week absence from Canada. The report recommends that the exemption limits be raised to the same level as the U.S. limits by 2007 and that the Canadian Border Services agency work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to raise the limit to $2,000 per trip by 2010.

Canadian border inspectors are also lacking the tools needed to confront security threats if they find them, the report concludes. Unless the government wants to permanently post Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers or local police at border crossings, they should arm the inspectors.

“While inspectors routinely encounter persons in possession of firearms, they themselves are armed only with batons and pepper spray,” the report states, and local and RCMP police backup is “either slow or non-existent.”

The recommendation is that current inspectors have the option to be trained in the use of firearms and given a weapon, and that the option would become mandatory for new hires. The report also recommends more training and better computer systems as tools inspectors need to adequately maintain border security.

The report is also recommending that Canada follow the U.S. lead in significantly boosting manpower at the border. “Since 1994, trade between Canada and the U.S. has grown by 77.7 percent.

However, the total number of employees on the Canadian side of the border has remained relatively constant during this period,” it states. “During that same period, the number of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents assigned to the Canada-U.S. border has tripled.”

Following in U.S footsteps again, the report recommends meeting up with U.S. requirements for everyone to carry identification that is “machine readable, tamper-proof, biometrically enhanced and known to have been issued on the basis of reliable documentation,” by 2007.
U.S. CBP announced in April that by the end of 2007 everyone crossing the United States border, even returning citizens, would need “accepted secure travel documents.”