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Member of Canada's new government says they will arm border guards

Associated Press Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia- A prominent member of Canada's incoming Conservative government said Wednesday the party will stand behind its promise to arm border guards, a day after guards fled their posts because two murder suspects were heading for the border from California.

Vic Toews, who will soon be a part of the government after serving as Canada's justice critic in opposition, said he did not relish the sight of Canadian border guards leaving their posts as gunmen approached.

Some unarmed guards abandoned their posts at four crossings along the British Columbia border on Tuesday when they heard the murder suspects were coming their way, said Paula Shore, a spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency.

"A few officers exercised their right to refuse to work because of what they perceived as imminent danger," Shore said. Under Canada's labor code, "any worker has the right to refuse to work if they feel they are in imminent danger," she said.

Canada's Conservative party defeated the Liberals in the national election on Monday night and the new government is expected to be sworn in within weeks. Toews said he expects the government to arm border guards soon.

"It's simply a practical matter of how soon these officers can be trained and the firearms issued to them," he told The Canadian Press. "That's our commitment and I trust our minister will do exactly that."

Suspects Ishtiaq Hussain, 38, of Pakistan, and Jose Antonio Barajas, 22, of Mexico, were arrested amid gunfire at the end of a high-speed chase Tuesday, police said. Hussain was shot and wounded by U.S. border guards.

Toews suggested Canada should be embarrassed by the incident.

"I think it does nothing for our national image. I find it very disturbing that our officers felt compelled to leave because of this threat to their personal safety," he said.

"I understand their concerns very well and don't fault them. What surprises me is that the former government refused to properly equip our officers."

The Canadian side of the U.S.-Canada border is monitored by the 4,500-member Canada Border Services Agency, supplemented in some posts by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and local police departments.

Border guards are supposed to allow anyone suspected of being armed and dangerous into Canada and then call police.

A vice president of the union that represents border guards said he was pleased by Toews' statements.

"We are supposed to withdraw because we're not armed," union vice president Steve Pellerin-Fowlie said.

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