Weapons Smuggled From US Flout Canada’s Gun Control
Undated (AP) _ When Montreal police raided the homes of suspected drug dealers last fall, they found cocaine, cash and something more shocking - two silencer- equipped, 9mm machine pistols.
It was, said Montreal Police Lt. Detective Jean Cousineau, the first time they had come across such powerful weapons in the hands of drug traffickers.
The subsequent investigation revealed the Cobrays had been smuggled into Canada from the United States, he said, pointing up a growing problem.
″A great many guns are being purchased in New York and Vermont and being smuggled into Canada,″ said Walter Bleyman, the special agent in charge of the Albany, N.Y., office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The reason is obvious - Canada has strict gun laws, while much of the United States does not.
In Vermont all someone needs to buy a handgun legally is identification proving he or she is from Vermont. Buyers then have to sign a form saying they have no criminal record. There is no separate background check.
In Canada there is an extensive background check. Handgun owners must belong to a gun club. They can only transport handguns between the firing range and their homes - and the firearm has to be in a locked case.
″The only way the criminal element (in Canada) can get guns is to steal them from a legitimate owner or smuggle it from the United States,″ said Neal Jessop, a detective in the Windsor, Ontario, police department and president of the Canadian Police Association.
Jessop’s city is adjacent to Detroit, and the Motor City’s guns often spill across the border. ″It’s a significant problem,″ he said. ″We arrest hundreds of people a year bringing illegal firearms into the country.″
Sgt. Charles Proteau, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Ottawa, says there is no national repository in Canada with statistics on gun seizures; illegal gun cases are left to the local or provincial police.
Tom Hill, an ATF spokesman in Washington, said between fiscal 1991 and 1992, the number of times Canadian authorities had asked the ATF to trace guns had tripled - from 59 to 156.
But he said that in itself did not mean there had been an enormous increase in crimes committed in Canada with firearms from the United States. Rather, it is an indication of more police cooperation across the border, he said.
For example, an investigation into a drug-related attack in Montreal last summer led to the arrest earlier this year of four Mohawk Indians in Vermont.
The four - James Eugene Cross and his wife Veronica Hemlock, both 35 and from Altona, N.Y., and Tyler Hemlock 33, and Onerahtase Phillips, 23, from Indian reserves in Quebec - were arrested in Swanton, Vt., and Grand Isle, Vt. Both towns are within 30 miles of the Canadian border.
Authorities said they were taken into custody after they took possession of two shipments of handguns that had been purchased illegally. They said the gun used in Montreal had been purchased by the four in Vermont.
They pleaded innocent in U.S. District Court in Rutland, Vt., to charges of making false statements when purchasing firearms and illegally selling and transporting them across state and international borders.
Over the course of a year, the Mohawks arrested Jan. 4 in Swanton and Grand Isle allegedly purchased more than 300 firearms, mainly pistols, from an Abenaki Indian gun dealer from Burlington, Vt., according to court affidavits.
The firearms were ″going to Indians on various reservations all over Canada,″ the documents said.
The ATF’s Bleyman said he believes the Mohawks are heavily involved in gun smuggling for profit. He has been in Albany for 15 years and says the illegal trade has always been active, though it has grown over the past five years.
″It is being done by Indians - and others as well - but mainly by Indians,″ he said.
Joseph D. Gray, a spokesman for the St. Regis Mohawk tribe and its tribal council, denied allegations that Mohawks were any more responsible for gun smuggling than any other segment of society.
″This (border) goes from Maine to the state of Washington. People are taking advantage of the U.S.-Canadian border,″ Gray said. ″It’s preposterous and insulting to say that the Mohawks are responsible.″
There is no debate, however, over the question of whether gun smuggling is a problem. The ATF is considering sending an agent to Canada permanently to work with authorities there to stem the cross-border flow of guns, said Hill.
And since the September seizure, Cousineau said, Montreal police have recovered a handful of the Cobray machine pistols, powerful weapons which are in the same family of firearms as the more famous MAC 10.
Although no police have been shot with the guns, Cousineau said police suspect that a Cobray was used in a drug-related murder in a suburban city.
The firearms have changed the nature of police work in Montreal.
″Now we tell our officers to call for help″ when they find a potentially dangerous situation, Cousineau said. ″Ten years ago we used to kick in the doors. Not anymore.″