Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Should the Border Stay Undefended?

Prior to 9/11, a lot was made about Canada and the U.S. sharing "the world's longest undefended border." The War on Terror, of course, puts a question mark on the concept.

The latest development comes courtesy of the Canadian Senate's Standing Committee on National Defence. As reported in the National Post:

The committee, which has been studying the state of border security, is expected to recommend that the RCMP have an officer posted at each border crossing into Canada and, if that cannot be accomplished, to allow Canada Border Services Agency officers at the crossing points to have guns ...

The committee is also concerned about the number of border posts staffed only by a single CBSA officer, and about the limit to personal exemptions allowed travellers entering Canada from the United States, sources said.

The committee's report was released today, and can be found here. Here's what its says (from page 31 of the report):

The Committee’s assessment is that it is just a matter of time before an unarmed
border inspector attempting to exert the authority of a peace officer suffers
serious injury at the hands of persons who are armed.

The Committee also believes that border inspectors should really be peace
officers. They should be ready to guard Canada’s borders showing the same kind
of resolve and the same kind of restraint that Canadian police officers show in
keeping our streets safe.

Unless the federal government is prepared to provide an around-the-clock on-site
armed police presence at each and every border crossing at which Canadian
border personnel are stationed, border officers should be equipped with firearms
and trained in their proper use.

The recommendation is officially number 13 in the report. Naturally, some people have their protests prepared:

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli said in April that giving sidearms to border guards would be a "dangerous move" and contribute little to improving national security.
"I know being at the border can be risky and there are certain dangers," he said.

"But somebody who runs through the border and having a customs officer run out of his hut and shoot after them -- I'm not sure we want to do that."

It's a concern -- but it makes one big assumption: that the border guard is Joe Average Citizen who thinks like a TV rent-a-cop blazing away at the getaway car. People can be trained in the responsible use of firearms, including knowing when to draw and when not to. And training in the use of firearms is a big part of the Committee's recommendations.

Part of Zaccardelli's squawk can also be bureaucratic: the Mounties have always screamed bloody murder whenever part of their security duties is taken away from them. They put up a big fuss when CSIS was created, and this situation is no different.

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan has also defended Canada's approach to border security.

"I don't think it makes a lot of sense, in terms of the expenditure of resources, to have every inch of that undefended border patrolled by Canadian, RCMP, or whoever it might be, 24/7," she told reporters in support of Comm. Zaccardelli's remarks. "I don't believe that is a rational use of our resources."

This is the big problem the Liberals have always had with national security: they think like accountants when they need to think like soldiers. National security is one of those issues where accountant thinking doesn't apply because you're trying to address an unknown threat.

From the executive summary of the committee report:

Is a takeout of a major crossing likely? No.

If a disaster were to occur at a land border crossing, would it throw a large wrench into Canada-U.S. trade that has grown so rapidly under NAFTA? Yes.

Can we afford to ignore such a potential catastrophe?

No, no, and no.

I couldn't have put it better myself.