POLITICS

Allow Canada border agents to chase border runners, say union, expert

01/08/2015 04:14 EST | Updated 03/10/2015 05:59 EDT
Canadian border guards should be allowed to pursue people who flee border inspections, the head of the Customs and Immigration Union and a security expert say.

Current Canada Border Services Agency policy prohibits guards from chasing after people who blow past border checkpoints or ignore orders to be inspected.

Jean-Pierre Fortin, head of the Customs and Immigration Union, and Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former CSIS intelligence officer, are calling for change after a U.S. man blew past inspection in Windsor, Ont., on Wednesday.

The 46-year-old, who police thought to be armed at the time, abandoned a stolen car he was driving and fled on foot after refusing to stop at the border. His actions prompted schools in the area to be temporarily placed under lockdown and manhunt ensued. He was eventually arrested at a truck stop 19 km away from the border.

Fortin says that about once a week people will pass through secondary inspection without stopping and the CBSA policy restricts border guards from chasing after any of them.

When a car arrives at a land border crossing, they are met by an agent, usually working from an inspection booth. Should further investigation of the driver or vehicle be needed, or the driver of the vehicle needs to pay duty or tax, they are sent to secondary inspection at a larger office, located just beyond the booth.

Fortin says he's met with the public safety minister about changing the policy that prohibits a chase.

"If CBSA decided to remove that policy, we would be able to chase these dangerous individuals and then immediately intervene and make the border way more secure," said Fortin.

Issue raised before government

In 2014, Fortin testified before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, which was studying the CBSA’s policies and practices of determining a person’s admissibility to Canada.

The issue of border runners was raised back then, too.

“When you are in a booth at the inspection lane at a major border crossing, you may say, ‘Okay, turn to your right to the inspection lane,’" Fortin testified, according to a transcript of the committee hearing. “What about the person that goes through? We're not even allowed to chase them; so the person will be in the country. That's a problem.”

In 2013, CBSA’s vice-president of operations, Martin Bolduc, told the Standing Committee on Public Accounts agents cannot pursue a border runner.

“Our officers do not have the authority to initiate high-speed chases of people who do not stop at the border. In such cases, we call upon our colleagues, be it the provincial police or the RCMP,” Bolduc testified, according to a transcript of the committee hearing. “They collaborate fully with us on this. Often, we are able to bring the people who did not stop back to the border. The majority of them are brought back to points of entry where the question is then dealt with.”

Police returned the U.S. man who fled in Windsor to the CBSA.

Windsor police chief Al Frederick said the current system works.

"The protocols in place are directly in parallel with the law of the land. The protocols are excellent and they work," he said.

Ontario legislation does allow peace officer to engage in a pursuit unless there is reason to believe a criminal offence has been or is about to be committed; no alternatives to a chase or pursuit are available; and an officer has reason to believe that the risk to public safety that may result from the pursuit outweighs the risk to public safety that may result if an individual in the fleeing motor vehicle is not immediately apprehended.

"A person running the border doesn't warrant a pursuit. I don't think a pursuit into our community would be an appropriate course of action," Frederick said.

In the U.S., there are units designated to pursue a person who refuses to stop at a checkpoint or border crossing.

'Archaic policy must be revised'

Juneau-Katsuya was the lead author of a 2006 report that recommended border agents be armed. Now he's calling on the government to change what he says is an "old and archaic policy," that limits what border guards can do when a suspect flees a border crossing.

"This is a situation really where an archaic policy must be revised for the safety and security of our citizens," Juneau-Katsuya said.

Currently, border guards can not pursue border runners. Instead, they contact local police or the RCMP to chase after suspects.

"The problem with that is, of course, time is of the essence when something of that nature occurs," Juneau-Katsuya said.

He says it's time to allow agents to chase after suspects instead of leaving it up to local forces.

"We have a situation now where the form of terrorism has changed. We have a form of terrorism that will immediately go into action if felt threatened," he said. "We have a different form of criminality. We have the means and the capability to intercept these people. We shall not gamble the safety and security of the general public for lack of decision making of custom officers."

Agents cannot leave posts

Border guards aren't allowed to leave their posts without authorization.

In August 2014, three border guards in Manitoba were suspended without pay after leaving their posts, at the request of the RCMP, to help arrest a suspect.

Fortin said the guards were asked to provide backup for the RCMP less than a kilometre away from the Canada-U.S. border in Emerson. The guards left their posts to help the Mounties, who were staking out a kidnapping suspect at a nearby hotel and bar, he said.

Two guards kept watch over several exits while a third guard went into the bar, said Fortin, who added the border remained staffed by three other guards on the night shift.

The three who went to help the Mounties returned to their posts less than an hour later following the suspect's arrest, he said.

The Canada Border Services Agency investigated and suspended the guards without pay because they left their posts for an "unauthorized purpose," Fortin said.

Fortin said the guards had no choice but to help the RCMP  because the Criminal Code compels them to co-operate fully with law enforcement officers.