Canada Border Services Agency
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Improving border security: The CBSA's Arming Initiative

In 2006, the Government of Canada announced that it was moving forward with arming Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers and eliminating work-alone situations to enhance border security and officer safety.

When this initiative is fully implemented, a total of 4,800 officers will be armed.

  • This number includes all border services officers who work at land and marine ports of entry, as well as officers who perform enforcement functions within Canada.
  • It also includes 400 new permanent officers who will be hired, trained and equipped in order to eliminate work-alone situations.

The arming of CBSA officers has not changed their authorities, mandate, duties or responsibilities. Their role with regard to facilitating the smooth flow of legitimate trade and travel across our border while keeping Canada's border secure remains unchanged.

The arming of CBSA officers and the elimination of work-alone sites provides greater protection to CBSA officers at the border and to those engaged in specialized enforcement activities within Canada.

Armed officers are better prepared and trained to deal with a broader range of options when responding to potentially dangerous situations.

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Ensuring the safety of CBSA officers and the travelling public

The CBSA has put in place a number of measures to ensure the safety of CBSA officers, the travelling public and border communities. These include the following:

  • A rigorous screening process for CBSA officers to ensure that they are physically and psychologically suited to handle a duty firearm safely and responsibly;
  • A comprehensive firearms training program that includes the proper use and storage of a duty firearm and the handling of dangerous situations;
  • An ongoing proficiency requirement in the use of firearms, including mandatory annual re-certification;
  • Incident reporting and investigation procedures.

At no time will the CBSA ask officers to place themselves, other officers or members of the public in undue danger. Armed officers continue to assess situations using their extensive skills, training, tools and good judgement. They will only resort to using their duty firearm when deemed necessary for the protection or preservation of life, and when all other reasonable alternatives are unsuccessful or unsafe.

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Implementation strategy

Moving from an unarmed to an armed workforce is a major undertaking. An effective firearms training program and both operational and human resources policies had to be implemented before the first armed officers were deployed.

Recognizing that all this takes time, the CBSA has adopted a phased-in strategy to arm its officers. The CBSA is committed to ensuring that this initiative is implemented properly, safely, efficiently and without undue delay.

The implementation plan was developed in consideration of the Government's directive to focus early implementation on large-volume ports of entry and on the overall level of risk.

The first group of armed officers was deployed at large-volume land border crossings and some small and medium-sized ports of entry in August 2007. As well, a small number of inland officers were trained during the first year.

As of March 2011, 1,544 armed officers have been trained and deployed to various locations across Canada. The CBSA continues to work diligently to ensure that its officers are properly trained and provided with the tools, equipment and other resources needed for the successful implementation of the Arming Initiative.

Rigorous officer screening process

To ensure that CBSA officers are physically and psychologically suited to carry a duty firearm safely and responsibly, the CBSA has established a thorough screening process. Officers need to pass this testing before taking the firearms training program.

The CBSA recognizes that not every officer will qualify to carry a duty firearm. The CBSA is committed to making every reasonable effort to accommodate those officers.

Training, Practice and Re-certification

With the assistance of the RCMP, the CBSA has developed a comprehensive training program tailored to the needs and realities of its officers.

The three-week training program for existing officers has several key components:

  • The safe handling, storage and transportation of a duty firearm;
  • Firearms proficiency;
  • The handling of dangerous situations, based on simulations from real-life situations faced by officers working at the border as well as those performing  specialized enforcement activities;
  • The new and revised CBSA policies and procedures.

Upon successful completion of the training, armed officers participate in two live fire practices annually, and must demonstrate that they have maintained the established standards in the use of the duty firearm, and control and defensive tactics by completing a re-certification process every year.

Future CBSA officers will be trained at the CBSA's Learning Centre in Rigaud, Quebec as part of their recruit training. However, the facility needs to be renovated to meet the requirements of the firearms program.

Currently, the CBSA is using training facilities in Ottawa, Chilliwack, British Columbia and Summerside, Prince Edward Island.

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Policies and human resources products related to the arming of officers

The CBSA has developed and updated a series of policies related to arming its officers. For example:

  • Policy on the Use of Force
  • Policy on the Acquisition and Reporting of Agency Firearms
  • Policy on the Handling of Agency and Protected Firearms
  • Policy on the Wearing of Protective and Defensive Equipment
  • Policy on the Possession, Transportation and Storage of Agency Firearms, Ammunition and Controlled Items
  • Policy on Training Prerequisites
  • Policy on Use of Force Incident Reporting and Investigation

Key human resources products that have been developed or revised include the following:

  • A duty to accommodate strategy to help ensure every reasonable effort is made to accommodate employees who are unable to undertake, or meet, the requirements and prerequisites.
  • A policy on employee support, including the employee assistance program and critical incident stress management program.

In developing these policies, the CBSA has consulted widely with many stakeholders, including employees, union officials, other government departments and law enforcement agencies.

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Selection of a duty firearm

Whether they are working at a land border crossing or a marine port of entry or investigating cross-border smuggling, CBSA officers have unique jobs and face unique circumstances. Following a rigorous, open and transparent process led by Public Works and Government Services Canada, the CBSA selected the Beretta Px4 9mm as its duty firearm. The firearm performed well during extensive testing. It also surpassed the CBSA's requirements and specifications, including the need to be lightweight, reliable, safe and easy to use in a variety of work environments.