The Canadian Press

Emerson, Manitoba: The union representing Canada’s border guards says three of its Manitoba members have been suspended without pay after leaving their posts at the request of the RCMP to help arrest a suspect.

Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, says the guards were asked a few months ago to provide backup for the RCMP less than a kilometre away from the Canada-U.S. border in Emerson. The guards left their posts to help the Mounties, who were staking out a kidnapping suspect at a nearby hotel and bar, he said Monday.

Two guards kept watch over several exits while a third guard went into the bar, said Fortin, who added the border remained staffed by three other guards on the night shift.

The three who went to help the Mounties returned to their posts less than an hour later following the suspect’s arrest, he said.

The Canada Border Services Agency investigated and announced last week that it was suspending the guards for up to 25 days without pay because they left their posts for an “unauthorized purpose,” Fortin said.

The guards had no choice but to help the RCMP, he said, because the Criminal Code compels them to co-operate fully with law enforcement officers.

“They did the right thing,” Fortin said. “They haven’t done anything wrong.”

Both RCMP and border guards fall under the Public Safety Department, Fortin said

Neither the RCMP nor the Canada Border Services Agency immediately responded to several requests for comment.

Right after the arrest, the guards were thanked by the RCMP for their help, Fortin said. It’s not unusual for border guards to help other law enforcement agencies, he added.

The guards, who cannot be identified, should be commended rather than punished, he suggested.

“These officers should actually be applauded and be recognized (for) reacting to keep _ not only our border safer _ but our community safe.”

The suspended guards were armed and had received some of the same training as RCMP officers, Fortin said. The guards weren’t new recruits and some had many years of experience on the job.

The union will be exploring all options to fight the suspensions, he said. At the very least, Fortin expects the guards to grieve the decision.

“We strongly feel this is abusive on behalf of the Canada Border Services Agency.”

By Chinta Puxley in Winnipeg