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Police presence possible at Toronto’s Billy Bishop

A Porter Airlines plane take off from Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport in front of condo towers on Wednesday April 10, 2013.

Chris Young/chris young The Globe and Mail

The Toronto Police Services Board is willing to consider putting armed police officers at Billy Bishop airport so that passengers can go through U.S. customs before boarding.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires that armed police are present for U.S. workers to perform customs checks.

"It would be a convenience for the passengers. They could be cleared here, get on the flight and when they arrive in the United States, they are already cleared," said Geoffrey Wilson, president and CEO of the Toronto Port Authority, at a meeting of the police board.

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Mr. Wilson says the Port Authority is willing to pay for the police officers. But there were conflicting reports about how much the nine police officers requested would cost. The Port Authority proposed using private constables, but the police board rejected the idea.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said he would be happy to meet with the Port Authority about the matter, which would be a step up from the support currently provided. There are no officers stationed at the island airport, but the police will respond to calls there.

"Toronto Police Services, in absorbing the then harbour police, accepted responsibility for policing the harbour, and we do that," he said.

Before 1982, the Port Authority had its own police service for the harbour.

Many other airports in Canada, such as Toronto's Pearson International, already have police officers and pre-clearance for travellers to the United States.

Councillor Michael Thompson, vice-chair of the police board, says he's pleased the board will have an opportunity to discuss the matter with the Port Authority.

"Mr. Wilson has given some numbers in terms of their cost that was quite different than the information that was provided to us. I think there is an opportunity to address that," he said.

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Chief Blair, Mr. Wilson and the chair of the Police Services Board will report back to the wider board in June.

Mr. Wilson says the request for special constables has nothing to do with the proposed expansion of Billy Bishop airport and said "the discussion on Homeland Security started a year ago."

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