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Open Letter - Ontario Proposes Federal Anti-Gun Smuggling Measures

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Open Letter - Ontario Proposes Federal Anti-Gun Smuggling Measures

Ministry of the Attorney General


The Honourable Stockwell Day, P.C., M.P. Minister of Public Safety, Sir Wilfrid Laurier Building, 13th Floor, 340 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0P8 

The Honourable Robert Nicholson, P.C., M.P., Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, East Memorial Building, 4th Floor, 284 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0H8 

Dear Ministers:

As you know, the people of Ontario continue to have serious concerns about the threat posed by guns and gun-related crime in our communities, particularly on the streets of downtown Toronto.   This concern is borne out of a desire to have safe, thriving communities across the province.  We want to put an end to the unnecessary, senseless tragedies that too often result from the unlawful use of firearms.

The McGuinty Government continues to express its desire to work closely with the federal government in the effort to stop the proliferation of gun-related crime by curbing the availability of guns from all possible sources. 

We have established a four-point plan to tackle gun crime in Ontario, which includes:

  • tougher, more effective laws relating to firearms, including a national ban on handguns; 
  • strengthened law enforcement, including more police on our streets and prosecutors in our courtrooms;
  • improved border security to prevent and combat gun trafficking across the Canada-United States border; and
  • new community investments to address the causes of crime.

At our recent meeting at your offices in Ottawa, we committed to identifying initiatives that the federal government could undertake to stop the flow of firearms across the Canada-United States border.   Both of our governments acknowledged that the majority of firearms used in gun crime in Canada get into the hands of criminals via the illegal cross-border gun trade.  While it is impossible to know precisely how many guns are smuggled into Ontario each year, the Toronto Police Service estimates that approximately 70% of recovered guns in Ontario are smuggled across the border.   Given the volume and availability of firearms in the United States, Canada is extremely vulnerable to the illegal flow of these weapons into our jurisdiction. 

It is widely acknowledged that the cross-border gun trade is closely linked to drugs.  According to the United States-Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment 2007, Canadian-produced drugs - particularly ecstasy and marijuana - are commonly exchanged for cocaine, currency and firearms, which are then smuggled back into Canada from the United States.  The reason for the exchange: Americans have easier access to handguns.  In Canada, guns are not as readily available in gun stores and markets, and Canadian hydroponic marijuana and ecstasy have great value in the United States.

In response to these significant challenges, the McGuinty Government has done its part to tackle the cross-border gun trade:

  • We have added 50 new investigators to the Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit to target broad organized crime aspects of international and domestic trafficking of guns. This brings the total number of officers in the unit to 117 and expands the unit's ability to participate in joint forces investigations with American law enforcement partners.
  • We have assigned six new dedicated prosecutors to work with police from the outset of an investigation to enhance our ability to monitor and prevent the movement of firearms into Ontario.  This also assists in stemming the flow of handguns and other restricted or prohibited firearms across the province.    These prosecutors have been deployed to field offices that border the United States.  They provide police with up-to-date legal advice and training, identify trends through co-operation with other border communities and gather information relevant to bail and sentencing.
  • We have expanded the Guns and Gangs Task Force to include a total of 72 Crown prosecutors who provide early legal advice to police and prosecute firearms offences.    These specialized prosecutors collaborate with Illegal Firearms Teams to enhance the integration, coordination, effectiveness and capacity of both the enforcement and prosecution of gun smuggling and theft.
  • Our government participates in the Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET) led by the RCMP, with the co-operation of the Ontario Provincial Police. IBETs are an intelligence-driven, multi-agency law enforcement operation targeting cross-border criminal activity, including smuggling of weapons, drugs, humans and tobacco.

Ontario is committed to tackling gun violence and stemming the flow of guns across the Canada-United States border.  But we can't do it alone.  We need the federal government to be a partner in this effort.   As a first step, we urge the federal government to immediately move forward on the following three initiatives:

1. Fulfill the Federal Government's Commitment to Require Marking of All Imported Firearms

Gun marking helps police to trace weapons used in crime to determine where they were diverted from legal use and to assist in breaking up gun smuggling rings.  Once a weapon is legally imported into Canada, it should have to be marked by the importer, which would help police to trace the source of weapons used in crime.  Currently, it is difficult to tell the difference between a legal and an illegal firearm. 

As you know, the federal government is a signatory to the United Nations Firearms Protocol and the Organization of American States Firearms Convention, both of which require the Government of Canada to mandate the marking of all imported firearms.

Import marking is widely recognized as an important domestic and international law enforcement tool.  The Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Association of Police Boards, and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police have told your government that marking of imported firearms is an important tool for tracing the source of illegal firearms.

The benefit of marking is clear:  it helps police investigators identify the source of illegal firearms, significantly shortens tracing times for police, and assists in the collection of intelligence and statistical information relating to the cross-border gun trade.

In 2004, the federal government introduced the 2004 Firearms Marking Regulations (SOR/2004), which established requirements for the marking of all firearms being imported to Canada by individuals and businesses and for marking of all firearms manufactured in Canada.  The federal government has twice delayed the proclamation of these regulations, effectively backing away from your international obligations and ignoring the good advice of law enforcement officials.

We join the international community and Canada's national police associations in calling on your government to proclaim the Firearms Marking Regulations at the earliest opportunity.

Further, we urge the federal government to strengthen the regulations (specifically, section 4(1)) by requiring both manufacturers and importers to stamp their name, city and province on every firearm that is manufactured or imported in Canada.          

2. Appoint Federal Prosecutors to the Guns and Gangs Task Force

The federal government has yet to respond to Ontario's open invitation to join our Guns and Gangs Task Force, which brings together prosecutors and police to investigate and prosecute gun crime at street level.  72 Ontario Crown prosecutors, including six anti-gun smuggling Crowns, are working with police to provide early advice to help charge and prosecute gun-runners, smugglers and thieves.  Since the creation of the Task Force in 2005, we've had space available in our joint Operations Center for federal prosecutors to join our collaborative efforts.

Federal prosecutors have specialized expertise in drug prosecutions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as well as wiretaps, search warrants, and border searches pursuant to the Canadian Border Services Agency Act and related federal statutes. 

In addition to narcotics expertise, having federal prosecutors available to provide advice to police and to litigate cases on border search issues will enhance the Task Force's ability to effectively prosecute gun smuggling offences. 

3. Limit Gun Parts Entering Canada Through Legislative Amendment

A loophole in Canadian law effectively creates an incentive to smuggle gun parts essential for the manufacture of illegal firearms into the country.  Even though border authorities check for the unauthorized importation of gun frames and receivers into Canada, once in the country, the possession of these gun parts is unregulated and attracts no criminal liability.  This loophole was never addressed after the definition of "firearm" was changed to require proof of operability in the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. Covin.

This creates a risk to public safety because, once in Canada, firearms frames and receivers are easily attached to other readily available firearms components and converted into functioning firearms. 

Amendments to the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act would resolve this problem.  We urge the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to deem a frame or receiver to be a firearm for the purposes of certain gun-related offences.  At the same time, amendments to the Firearms Act and regulations - providing for the licensing of individuals and businesses for the lawful possession of firearms frames and the registration of those items - will ensure that firearms frames and receivers are fully brought into the regulatory scheme of licensing and registration.
In conclusion, the danger of illegal firearms poses an unacceptable threat to Ontarians.  Since 2003, the McGuinty Government has taken action to stem the flow of illegal firearms into Canada without slowing cross-border trade.  We expect the federal government to fulfill its responsibility to secure the national border from the smuggling and trade of illegal firearms.  We therefore urge you to move forward as soon as possible on these initiatives.   It is a matter of safety for Ontarians.  We look forward to discussing these suggestions with you at your convenience.  

Yours truly,

Hon. Chris Bentley
Attorney General

Rick Bartolucci, MPP, Sudbury

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