What do we know about weapons trafficking?

Many may recall the afternoon of June 2007 when an AK-47 assault rifle let loose on Provincial Highway 6 south of Caledonia, putting a man into the emergency department at West Haldimand Hospital.

Just prior, the shooter had threatened another man near the Thistlemoor Street entrance to the occupied Douglas Creek Estates – right beside Caledonia’s Notre Dame School.

Google AK-47 Caledonia and you won’t find much, other than my statement in the Legislature and a piece on Caledonia Wake-Up Call. The mainstream and local media made no mention, probably because the OPP did not send out a news release. Both Six Nations newspapers did provide coverage at the time.

This past week, I raised the issue again at Queen’s Park, and introduced legislation to create an Ontario government Commission of Inquiry into the black market trafficking of not only weapons but also of people, drugs, money and tobacco. My Private Members’ Bill passed the formality of first reading and will be debated and voted on again Thursday, March 24.

I wish to differentiate between illegal firearms and those used by law-abiding hunters, collectors and target shooters. Legal firearms ownership is a long-standing tradition in this country. The legal element is not the problem and should not be targeted, or in any way impeded, in carrying out their lawful activities.

The concern here is the ‘crime gun’ – the gun that is illegally possessed, used in a crime or suspected to have been used in a crime. Such guns often have obliterated serial numbers.

The United States is the primary source of smuggled weapons into Canada and Mexico – because it’s nearby, has less restrictive laws and a large firearms manufacturing sector. According to the Canadian Border Services Agency, 96 per cent of the firearms they sieze come from the U.S.

In Ontario, the I-75 corridor is the main supply route for illegal firearms from Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Michigan.

Most firearms smuggled from the United States are semi-automatic handguns. Handguns are commonly traded for narcotics on the street. The going price on the street is three times the retail price a legal and properly-licensed owner would pay. Fully automatic rifles – like the AK-47 – are also highly sought after.

The illegal firearms market is dominated by criminally-inclined individuals and organized crime groups. Independent organized crime groups appear to be involved in providing specialized goods and services to a number of other criminal organizations, essentially sub-contracting services, that facilitates the movement of drugs, firearms and cash and human trafficking. Entrepreneurs who move tobacco, drugs and people into the United States may well be in the business of smuggling weapons on their way back.

Part of being tough on crime was expanding the Guns and Gangs Task Force. Ontario has now opened two major crimes courts and expanded the OPP-led Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit. Officers are assigned to the community, to youth crime and marijuana grow-ops. The initiatives will also look at ways to address money laundering and the illegal use of cash.

Additional research is called for if we are to develop effective evidence-based policies to continue to deal with the trafficking of illegal weapons. I feel my proposal for a Commission of Inquiry into Illegal Trade and Trafficking of People, Drugs, Money Tobacco and Weapons can help fill that void.