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Canada news
Thursday » September 27 » 2007

Border guards flunking shooting lessons

Still, they want to be armed

Doug Williamson
The Windsor Star

They wanted to carry guns, but one in five Canadian border guards have been flunking their shooting lessons.

"Eventually, they will be armed. But not everyone is going to qualify," said Marie-Claire Coupal of Windsor, fourth national vice-president of the Customs and Excise Union, adding that the 20-per-cent failure rate applied across the board.

Coupal said part of the reason 20 per cent of trainees have been flunking out is the relatively short firearm training period of three weeks, compared with 16 weeks for RCMP officers. Most of the failures were in the 25-metre shooting qualification requirement - a long distance that doesn't reflect normal border conditions, she said.

As well, some officers needed fitness training so their arms remained steady during the shortened shooting training which caused fatigue.

Union national president Ron Moran said that last Friday, 24 out of 28 trainees qualified on their first try, reflecting changes made in the training program after the initial failure rates were noticed. He said those that initially failed to qualify should be given another chance. He added that the union is not advocating that unqualified offiers be pushed through.

"The employer has as much of a vested interest as we do," Moran said.

A spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said Tuesday that 20 per cent of the training class in July, and a smaller percentage in August did fail to qualify. But changes have been made to provide more coaching and 12 additional hours more practice time on the shooting range, for a total of 50 hours. In addition, other measures, such as not conducting the shooting range test on the same day as the written exam, have been implemented. She said the government expects the failure rate to drop when the September group graduates.

"The changes have been made," said Melisa Leclerc. "It can't be too easy (though)."

The government has announced that up to 4,800 land and marine guards will be armed eventually. This summer, 11 armed guards took up their posts in Windsor and Sarnia, and more were headed to Ottawa or B.C. for training. To date, 80 armed guards have been deployed across Canada. Airport border guards are not armed.

Coupal said the 25-metre precision shooting requirement is unrealistic under border conditions. "That's where we're losing most of our people. It's physically demanding on them."

Those who fail to qualify will get another crack at it, she added. "As it stands they're supposed to get two tries. They're just in the first round. These people will be going back for a second round."

Coupal said it is not known what will happen to those who fail to quallify.

"All that hasn't been worked out yet," she said. "I don't think that CBSA was ready for this."

Officers who qualify will carry nine-millimetre Berettas,
and are also assuming more law-enforcement responsibilities. They'll be able to arrest and detain drunk drivers and people named in warrants until police arrive.

Leclerc said if an officer doesn't pre-qualify for training, or fails to qualify after two tries, every effort will be made to transfer him or her to a job where carrying guns is not required.

Initial estimates pegged the cost of arming Canada's border guards at $781 million, after the union lobbied for two decades for the right to carry weapons.

It is estimated it will take 10 years to complete the training and arming process.

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