SEATTLE – Agents for the Canada Border Services Agency (search) protect the 4,000-mile border with the United States from drugs, guns and fugitives and they do so without firearms.
But some of those agents — armed only with batons and pepper spray — say that they want to be able to protect both themselves and their country with stronger weapons. In recent years, Canadian border agents have been shot at or assaulted dozens of times and have carried out a growing number of drug busts. Last year, agents confiscated more than 1,000 firearms.
The Canadian Senate voted to arm customs agents with guns but the ruling Liberal Party (search) vetoed the idea in part because they don't want to promote a "gun culture" like they say exists in the United States.
"If these other people have guns, maybe they're gonna pull them out, and there will be a shootout in the middle of an area where there's many, many people," said Roy Cullen, a Liberal Party member of Parliament. "So we're not convinced that guns have to be part of the solution."
In addition to the Liberal Party, two of the top law enforcement officials in Canada are leading the opposition to customs agents getting guns. The head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (search) told Parliament he was afraid it would lead to customs agents running out of their huts shooting at motorists.
Unlike in the United States, where Immigration and Customs agents have always carried guns, Canadian border agents are not supposed to stop armed and dangerous fugitives trying to cross the border. Instead, they are instructed to call the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who are often miles away.
Police in Washington State say that many of their fugitives have escaped into Canada because Canadian border agents are unarmed.
"It's incredulous to me that they don't [have guns] when they're expected to apprehend wanted fugitives and felons and people smuggling firearms or drugs across the border," said Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo, who added that he would never do the job without a gun.
No Canadian customs agent has ever been killed in the line of duty, but supporters of arming them hope that's not what it takes to get the Canadian government to change the security policy.
"They're dealing with some dangerous people, who just maybe committed murders, killed their families," said Tom Granger, a retired Canadian customs agent. "And we're supposed to hold them and detain them with what? Mace?"
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Dan Springer.