OTTAWA - Canada's border guards are pulling out their guns, batons and pepper spray much more frequently, says a newly released report, suggesting border crossings are becoming more dangerous places.
There were 127 so-called use-of-force incidents in the year ending March 31, almost three times more than occurred in each of the previous two years.
And guards who began to carry sidearms in July 2007 are now pulling them from their holsters about three times a month.
The report says no guns were actually fired in the 34 cases where the sidearm was used last year. Batons were brought out five times but never used.
Pepper spray was discharged four out of the seven times it was displayed to aggressive travellers. No one was seriously injured in any of the incidents.
The accounting of the use of force appears in a June 23 analysis by the Canada Border Services Agency, obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act.
The agency defines use of force as "any situation where a CBSA officer has drawn his or her defensive equipment, Oleoresin Capiscum 1/8pepper 3/8 spray, baton or duty firearm, in the presence of members of the public."
Officers must file a detailed report each time a defensive weapon or force, such as a headlock, is used while on the job.
The increasing use of pistols, which were being drawn only about once a month when they were first introduced two years ago, appears directly related to the gradual increase in the number of armed guards on duty.
As of March 31, more than 800 officers had been trained and assigned a duty firearm, the 9 mm Beretta P4X Storm. The agency wants to arm 4,800 guards at all land and marine border points by 2016.
Officers have been equipped with batons and pepper spray since 2003.
The rising use of force is apparent in every region of Canada, but the increase is fastest in two hot spots: British Columbia and Windsor, Ont.
A spokeswoman for the border agency declined to comment on why there has been a rapid rise in the number of incidents, especially in British Columbia and Windsor, Ont., saying only that each case is carefully reviewed.
"Situations where force is appropriate will depend on the particular threat faced by the officers," Patrizia Giolti said in an email response to questions.