Government to consider arming coast guard vessels

The federal government is considering arming Canadian Coast Guard vessels currently being produced at the Halifax shipyard.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay made the revelation after a ceremony unveiling the coast guard's newest mid-shore patrol vessel, Caporal Kaeble V.C., at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography on Tuesday.

He said the Organization of American States has been putting pressure on Canada to arm its coast guard to aid in combating drug and other contraband from entering North America.

"This is something we obviously have to contemplate whether to further up-armour some of these coast guard vessels and to have weapons aboard," MacKay said.

Dan Bate, a communications officer for the Canadian Coast Guard's Pacific Region, said the majority of coast guard vessels are not armed.

Bate said when the coast guard works in co-operation with RCMP, Mounties are on board to provide arms, if needed.

This is not the first time the government has considered arming coast guard vessels.

In a 2010 report by the standing senate committee on fisheries and oceans, recommendations were made to arm coast guard ships patrolling Canada's North.

"The committee recommends that, as a precautionary measure at least in the interim period before the new naval Arctic/offshore patrol ships are built and deployed, the Government of Canada should arm Canada’s Coast Guard icebreakers with deck weaponry capable of giving firm notice, if necessary, to unauthorized foreign vessels for use in the Northwest Passage," read the report.

Another recommendation included was to provide onboard personnel from appropriate agencies who are able to enforce Canadian law with small arms.

The Caporal Kaeble V.C. Hero-class vessel was named after Joseph Kaeble, a First World War soldier who earned a posthumous Victoria Cross for stopping a German attack.

Two of Kaeble's nieces were on hand for the ceremony. They said their uncle was a courageous man and they were honoured.

The Caporal Kaeble is the second of nine mid-shore ships being built for coast guard at the Halifax shipyard at a cost of $198 million.

The plan is, over the next two years, for the Halifax shipyard to finish one ship every three or four months.

The Hero-class patrol vessels are designed for maritime security and fisheries enforcement off the coast of Canada.

"We do anti-drug smuggling, drug searches any kind of illegal activity," said Lisa Earle, the ship's first officer.

The 40-metre ship will patrol the St. Lawrence River between the mouth of the river and Cornwall, Ont. Members of the RCMP will be on board, working co-operatively with coast guard members.

The Caporal Kaeble will be based in Quebec.

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