The cache of firearms seized by Canadian border guards swelled by 30% in 2007, but the vast majority of gun runners were unwitting American tourists, not gangsters or criminal smugglers.
Internal reports from Canada Border Services Agency’s Strategic Intelligence Analysis division record 662 seizures of machine guns, rifles, antique weapons, revolvers and pistols last year — up from 509 in 2006. About 75% of the illicit catch is handguns, which many want outlawed in Canada.
And while many of the seizures are linked to the black market and organized crime rings, most were confiscated from visiting Americans who didn’t declare their guns, according to the documents obtained by Sun Media through Access to Information.
“Most of the firearms seized by CBSA at the land ports of entry are the personal firearms of legitimate U.S. travellers who neglected — intentionally or not — to declare their personal firearms,” one report reads.
Reports also show firearms seizures peak in the summer months of June, July and August, and that 94% of the weapons are seized at highway entry points.
Smugglers using ground routes tried a variety of methods to sneak guns and ammunition into Canada, posing as vacationers or shoppers and hiding their illicit stash inside spare tires, body packs, trunks or door panels. Others tried sailboats, post, air cargo or private aircraft, and the most brazen even boarded commercial flights with illicit weapons in tow.
One Canadian man managed to make it back to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport from the Ukraine carrying an AK-47 fully automatic assault rifle with an over-capacity magazine.
Most seizures at land or bridge crossings were detected because of odd behaviour or the whiff of drugs picked up by CBSA sniffer dogs. In one bust at the Niagara-Ft. Erie crossing, a dog led authorities to a stash of three guns, magazines and ammunition smuggled by an 18-year-old American woman for the illegal market.
Between 2004 and 2007, 2,289 guns were seized by CBSA, and others were nabbed by Integrated Border Enforcement Teams working with American partners. But John Thompson of the Mackenzie Institute said the seized guns represent a mere fraction of what’s actually flowing in from across the border.
“The industry standard for most smuggled products — guns, cigarettes, booze, narcotics — is about 5%. That’s all we’re catching of it,” he said.
Gun smuggling is a lucrative trade, with mark-up prices at about 300-400% for traffickers, and Thompson said many ordinary Canadians also sneak in guns to keep in their bedroom closet for personal protection.
TIP OF SMUGGLING ICEBERG
Ron Moran, national president of the Customs Excise Union of border guards, said more manpower and resources must be deployed to do more than “scratch the surface” of the gun smuggling problem — especially along the border between official crossings.
“There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the firearms and the drugs that are coming up aren’t even crossing at the border crossings,” he said. “In Quebec alone there are 108 unguarded roads and over 300 across the country.”
Moran also pointed to black market trade “corridors” where high-quality Canadian marijuana goes south in return for guns coming north.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the Conservative government has made curbing gun smuggling a “top priority” and is investing millions to beef up the border and arm guards.
GUN BUSTS AT THE BORDER
– At Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, an AK-47 fully automatic assault rifle with an overcapacity magazine was seized from a Canadian returning from a trip to Ukraine on Czech Airlines.
– A parcel intercepted at the Montreal Mail Centre contained highcapacity magazines for a machine gun pistol. A later search of the recipient’s premises uncovered two Uzi-style machine guns, an assault rifle, multiple stun guns and ammunition.
– 720 replica firearms made in China and declared as toys were seized in Edmonton. They were black and appeared genuine.
– At Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, two courier packages from Hong Kong were intercepted. The shipper declared the contents were plastic toys but the shipments contained components for a fully assembled MP5 machine gun.
– Nine firearms were seized at the Fort Erie Peace Bridge on a commercial bus chartered for a shopping trip.
– 45 handguns and revolvers were seized from a transport truck at Lacolle, Que.
– A commercial shipment from Florida destined for a Toronto business was discovered with 58 .45 calibre and two 9 mm handguns. The truck driver claimed no knowledge of the firearms.
– 20 firearms seized at Coutts, Alta., from U.S. residents moving to Alaska.
– The Highwater Quebec Port of Entry had a seizure of a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun, two handguns, six large.capacity magazines, 75 rounds of ammunition and two bulletproof vests. The two male passengers in the Ford Explorer, both U.S. military students, claimed they were on a Canadian pleasure trip
– Officers at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport intercepted a passenger arriving from Iran with six prohibited devices. He was identified at the primary inspection as the subject of a previous prohibited weapons seizure.
– A cleaner tending to the men’s washroom in the baggage area of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport found a gun in the trash bin.
– A seizure of 60 handguns from a single commercial shipment was made at the Ft. Erie-Peace Bridge.
– At Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge, two Canadians returning from a two-day camping trip were nabbed with a large-capacity magazine for two handguns and one rifle; another 20 rifle and handgun magazines were later discovered behind panels and ductwork.