Unarmed and Dangerous

Most of us who live in New Hampshire don’t spend a lot of time worrying about our northern border. It’s just one of those things that has always been there and has seemed to work OK. We have lots of other stuff to fret about, and very few migrant workers are sneaking across the border to take jobs in the North Country.

Nevertheless, with all the drug smuggling and terrorist worries, I was interested to see a recent article that indicated that Canada is finally taking its border responsibilities seriously. The article in the Washington Post, and later picked up locally, focused on an announcement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Canada will soon begin a program to arm its border guards.

I guess this is welcome news. Apparently the border guards were previously expected to stand their ground against drug smugglers, carloads of terrorists, crazed serial killers and other bad guys armed only with pepper spray and batons. Needless to say, there was some concern that if suicidal terrorists or big-budget drug dealers pulled out their AK-47s, Uzis and anti-tank weapons in a confrontation, the border guards, no matter how brave, might have had an inclination to vacate the area.

But now the border guards will be armed with handguns. This should make all the difference. One puzzling part about the announcement of this bold step, however, is that it will take ten years to accomplish. Apparently, the training program for the use of these complex weapons is not up to speed. The first 150 of the 4,400 guards will be armed by March of 2008, followed by about 500 more each year.

Still, I guess it’s the thought that counts. Canada has acknowledged that it’s a dangerous world out there and is showing itself ready to confront the terrorist and criminal threats in a forthright manner that seems typical of enlightened governments everywhere. The guards may not be quite as excited. The good news is that they will have one out of every 30 officers armed with some kind of weapon by 2008. The bad news is that 29 out of every 30 guards will still be armed with pepper spray. Maybe that is why the extensive need for training. If you’re the lucky one with a handgun, and you’re facing off against an AK-47 or an anti-tank weapon, you better be a really good shot. I also wouldn’t count heavily on the pepper spray backup.

Even though I know that this step is well intentioned, I am not certain that such a bold move actually causes less stress among New Hampshire citizens. Personally, the pepper spray armament that currently exists was information I didn’t want to know. And maybe we didn’t want to tell the nuclear terrorists that if they act by March of 2008, the worst-case scenario for a border confrontation from the Canadian guards involves stinging eyes and some savage baton dents on the fenders of their rental car. NH

Glenn K. Currie is a poet, writer and photographer who lives in Concord. His two books of poems and photos, “Daydreams” and “Riding in Boxcars,” are available from www.snapscreenpress.com.