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Illegal firearms seized in Canada-U.S. gun probe, largest in Ontario history

Ontario Provincial Police announced a record-breaking weapons bust during a Thursday morning press conference in Orillia.

The joint investigation dubbed project SAXOM, led by the provincial weapons enforcement unit and U.S. Homeland Security investigators, led to the seizure of 274 illegal firearms, of which 168 were seized in the United States and 106 in Ontario.

The investigation, which started in early 2023, led to police infiltrating five distinct drug and weapons trafficking operations, police say.

“What makes this investigation particularly alarming is not just the quantity of guns but also the types of weapons seized. This is the largest seizure of handguns and assault-style rifles in the history of this province,” said deputy commissioner Marty Kearns.

Kearns noted that some of the firearms seized were weapons that had been modified to fire several rounds with a single pull of the trigger, and many also came with extended firearm magazines.

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The investigation resulted in a total of 16 arrests in Ontario and 279 charges laid.

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Police say six of the accused are subject to lifetime firearms prohibition bans; one accused was on full parole, and another was on statutory release.

Police say a 35-year-old from St. Catharines remains wanted.

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In addition to trafficking firearms, officers say that several of the accused were also trafficking illicit drugs, including fentanyl pills and heroin, among others.

The potential street value of the illicit drugs and illegal firearms seized in Ontario is approximately $3.25 million.

“Illegal firearms like these are used in violent crimes such as robberies, carjackings, home invasions, intimidation, extortion, and homicides. Some of the firearms you see before you were in the hands of offenders previously convicted of violent offences and subjected to lifetime firearms prohibitions,” said provincial police commissioner Thomas Carrique.

“Not only do firearms pose a substantial danger to the public, they also pose an imminent risk to the safety of our officers. The success of this complex, multi-jurisdictional and transnational investigation is a result of well-established partnerships and the accumulative efforts of dedicated and highly skilled investigators.”

In early 2023, the investigation started when police said two individuals were seeking to traffic firearms in the Greater Toronto Area. This led to a dual investigation between several United States and Canadian law enforcement agencies.

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In Ontario, police executed 17 search warrants at locations in the GTA and Niagara Region on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14, leading to the seizure of 106 illegal firearms.

Working with American law enforcement, provincial police were able to intercept 168 illegal firearms before they could be smuggled into Ontario.

“Homeland Security Investigations is committed to leveraging our resources to help dismantle firearms trafficking organizations and working to keep guns out of the hands of criminals on both sides of our northern border,” said homeland security Buffalo special agent in charge Matthew Scarpino. “Our goal is for law-abiding residents to enjoy safety in their communities, and holding these criminals accountable for their actions is a major step toward achieving that.”

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