Sheriff's Officers with Sidearms in NS.... Softly, softly

The Halifax Herald's Sherry Borden Colley, ( has reported that the province is considering arming some of the province’s sheriff’s officers. The deputies provide interim lockup services for prisoners appearing in court, transportation of prisoners to and from court, court security and civil enforcement services. In our experience, they routinely provide those duties competently, cheerfully and efficiently.

At times court houses can be tough places indeed and it makes sense to consider issuing sidearms to some officers. Likewise, there’s no doubt that enforcing court judgments including by seizing property can put deputies right into the midst confrontation. For that, in appropriate cases, particularly if police support is not immediately available, it may be hard to argue that at least some officers on hand not be armed.

Other areas in which firearms are being considered is prisoner transport (to and from jails and court). This might be more difficult territory. The introduction of these weapons into potentially close proximity to prisoners needs close thought.

No one wants to see Sheriff’s officers unnecessarily exposed to harm. The Canada Border Service Agency's experience with introducing sidearms seems to have gone well– weapons were introduced over a six year period and officers were provided with three week intensive training sessions. They seem to drawn sparingly and used appropriately. Experience in other provinces where some deputies are armed seems to have gone well.

But we have never had such officers armed before. The circumstances in which the deputies with hand weapons in the province needs careful, deliberate review. The province certainlly has begun the process appropriately. A former RCMP superintendent is said to have written a report calling for the change. No doubt the Justice department case has closely considered it.

These are all good reasons to look for change. But this still an important public issue where there seems an ever present temptation for government to turn to enhanced use of force. An informed public debate only makes sense. An appropriate first step might be to release the report.

Until then..softly softly