Some New Brunswick sheriffs and safety enforcement officers now have to carry guns after the Department of Justice and Public Safety conducted a risk assessment.

About 30 officers in the motor vehicle enforcement branch already carry guns after completing training and certification in the spring of 2017.

But over the next three years, about 150 will be able to carry them. The requirement only applies to officers assigned to roadside checks, and no one will lose their job for refusing to carry a gun, the department said. 

Sheriffs in New Brunswick provide courtroom security, transport prisoners to court appearances and jails, and serve summonses, among other things. 

Justice and Public Safety Minister Denis Landry, who just learned about the gun program, said the move was necessary because of the changing nature of crime in the province.

"People in the criminal world can have firearms," said Landry.

"After a risk evaluation, it was decided that these officers should carry a firearm for their safety and for the public's safety."

Landry said he wasn't made aware of the program until a few days ago. 

"Nobody asked me the question," he said when asked why.

New policy questioned

Jean Sauvageau, a criminology professor at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said crime rates have been dropping for 25 years across Canada, and New Brunswick is already below average.

"New Brunswick [has] lower than average crime rates, violent crime rates included," said Sauvageau.

"So where exactly the impetus is behind this is hard to fathom in that context."

Criminology Professor Jean Savageau talks about the implications of giving firearms to court sherrifs and highway enforcement officers in New Brunswick.0:43

The news that some officers are now carrying guns has come after increased scrutiny of possible organized crime activity in the province, including the recent arrest of a high-ranking member of the Hells Angels in Woodstock.

Gangs armed

Landry suggested there is increased activity by Hells Angels, which means officers are exposed to greater risk.

"If we look at organized criminal groups, we can say that the level to which they're armed has changed," he said. "That was part of the risk evaluation."

Landry said the policy wasn't put in place as a reaction to the increased activity though.

Sauvageau suggested the motive for the policy isn't Hells Angels-related.

"The Hells Angels is very recent and this training and decisions were made prior to the whole Hells Angels situation that we are now hearing about," said Sauvageau.

Pretense of safety?

Richard Bockus, a trucker who works throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada, said he agrees with the policy.

"We're now living in a world where people are so cruel to other people," Bockus said. "I think good people have to defend themselves.

Sauvageau said some people believe that giving officers weapons makes both officers and the public safer, but it isn't so clearcut.

"It's far more complex than that," said Sauvageau.

"It is far from obvious that arming these people automatically results in increased safety for them or the public at large."

Word from the street: Do you think court sherrifs and highway enforcement officers should carry firearms?0:59

With files from Radio Canada, Kate Letterick and CBC News at 6