OTTAWA - Fewer border guards drew their guns, batons and pepper spray last year in an abrupt reversal of a previous trend toward greater use of force at Canadian border points.

There were 147 such incidents at border stations in 2011-2012, a significant drop from 184 in the previous year.

It marks the first significant decline in so-called use-of-force incidents over the last five years, a period during which guards were armed with handguns for the first time. Previously, officers had to call the local cops to deal with dangerous travellers.

The Canada Border Services Agency logs every incident in which their officers draw or discharge their duty sidearms, and pull out or use their truncheons and pepper spray.

So far, guards have discharged their handguns on duty just three times since July 2007, twice in loading-unloading accidents in which no one was hurt, and once deliberately to put an injured moose out of its misery in 2009.

But the agency also counts every time a guard pulls out his firearm to deal with a troublesome border-crosser.

A draft internal report on incidents in the last two years was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The statistics show batons and pepper spray were used or drawn fewer times last year than the year previous, while the firearm use — whether drawn or pointed — matched the previous year, at 105 incidents. There were no serious injuries or deaths in either year.

"We will not speculate on reasons why there seems to be a decrease in the number of incidents," agency spokeswoman Amitha Carnadin said in an email.

"Each incident is reviewed on a case by case basis to ensure that established standards and protocols were followed."

The drop may be linked to a decline in the number of American visitors crossing the border by car, partly the result of the strong Canadian dollar vis-a-vis the greenback.

Statistics Canada says the number of U.S. travellers crossing by automobile fell by five per cent between 2010 and 2011, to 13.6 million.

"I've been told that traffic went down in a lot of places," said Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, representing border guards, when asked about the drop in incidents.

So far, the duty firearm — the 9 mm Beretta P4X Storm handgun — has been used in 152 incidents since the first one was issued to a border officer in July 2007. Most of the incidents have occurred in the busy southern Ontario and Pacific regions.

The Canada Border Services Agency said in 2006 that it planned to arm 4,800 guards within 10 years, and so far has trained and armed 2,072.

Carnadin said the project "remains on schedule and on budget," at about $781 million. Last month, the agency opened a large firing range at Rigaud, Que., after relying on smaller ranges in Chilliwack, B.C., Ottawa and Charlottetown for training.

Officers will eventually be armed at all 119 land and 34 marine ports of entry, Carnadin said.

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  • The Rules Have Changed

    The biggest change to cross-border shopping is the increased allowances to duty-free purchases. Canadian travellers outside the country for more than 24 hours can now bring in up to $200 in goods. The previous limit was capped at $50. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/blmurch/" target="_hplink">Photo courtesy of: Flickr/ blmurch </a>

  • The Rules Have Changed: Part II

    As of June 1, Canadians who find themselves outside of the border for 48 hours or longer will have their allowance double from $400 to $800. The limit for travellers outside of the country for more than seven days has also changed. <a href="http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/media/facts-faits/106-eng.html" target="_hplink">Their limit has increased by $50 from $750 to $800</a>.

  • It's All About Timing

    For those looking to capitalize on the new duty-free rules, here's some advice: plan accordingly as the new rules are still time sensitive. For example, Canadians can't claim duty-free status on any goods if their trip less than 24 hours. Also, the date you left Canada <a href="http://www.taxfreetravel.com/Canada Duty Free Exemptions" target="_hplink">doesn't count towards your trip length</a>, but the day you return can.

  • Personal vs Commercial Use

    The duty-free status still only applies if your purchases are for personal use. That means it can be for your house, a souvenir, or anything else for your own personal enjoyment. However, if it's anything for commercial use, expect to pay full duties. Also, while you can bring back gifts for other people under your duty-free allowance, that allowance can't be shared with other people.

  • The Rules To Alcohol Still Apply

    The rules regarding alcohol purchases outside of Canada still hold true, despite the increased in allowance. For example, you can only claim duty-free status if your trip is 48 hours or longer in length. Also worth noting is that only <strong>one</strong> of the following items can count towards your allowance: 1.14 L (40 oz.) of liquor; OR 1.5 L of wine; OR 24 X 355 ml (12 oz.) containers of beer.

  • Exemptions Exist

    Shoppers can expect to rake in many goods across the border with Canada's new rules, but certain items are still off limits. For example, certain fruits, meats and vegetables are prohibited from entering Canada as are weapons such as guns, mace, and pepper spray -- something worth noting if you find yourself at the local gun show.

  • The Rules To Tobacco Still Apply

    Much like alcohol, the rules to tobacco are still in effect. Canadians need to be outside of the country for at least 48 hours but can bring in any of the following as part of their duty-free purchase: 200 cigarettes; 50 cigars or cigarillos; 200 tobacco sticks; and 200 g (7 oz.) of manufactured tobacco.

  • Ready Your Receipts

    Now that the purchases have been made, all that's left is to get them back into Canada and that's where receipts come into play. Canadian Border Services Agency workers may ask for proof of any purchase and having them on hand may be the difference maker between a five-minute process and a five-hour delay. Receipts can also help verify how long your trip was based on the date of your purchases.

  • Don't Forget To Pack Your Goods

    Canadians can now make more purchases over the border but they still need to be sure that they can bring everything back. That's because the CBSA still limits the duty-free status to goods on your possession when returning. There is one exception to this rule though: travellers gone longer than seven days can have the duty-free status apply to their <a href="http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/media/facts-faits/106-eng.html" target="_hplink">goods delivered to them via mail, courier, or by a delivery agency.</a>