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Ontario police seize record number of illegal firearms in transnational smuggling investigation

A joint investigation between Canadian and U.S. authorities has resulted in a “record-breaking” seizure of illegal firearms in Ontario, police say.

At a news conference in Orillia Thursday, members of the OPP’s provincial weapons enforcement unit and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) told reporters that a total of 274 illegal firearms, intended for sale in the Greater Toronto Area, have been seized on both sides of the border.

“Illegal firearms like these are used in violent crimes such as robberies, carjackings, home invasions, intimidation, extortion and homicides,” said OPP commissioner Thomas Carrique.

Fentanyl, other drugs also seized

The 106 firearms confiscated in Ontario mark the largest seizure of handguns and assault-style rifles in the province’s history, police said. Of the 168 guns seized in the U.S., most were being smuggled into Ontario through Buffalo, police said, though the investigation reached as far as Florida.

Police said firearms were being sold days or even hours after they were smuggled across the border.

In 17 OPP-led searches conducted earlier this month, police said they also seized a variety of illicit drugs intended for trafficking, like fentanyl and methamphetamine.

The estimated street value of the firearms and illicit drugs seized in Ontario is just over $3 million, police said.

There have been 16 arrests made in Ontario in relation to the investigation. One man from St. Catharines is still outstanding. Police said six of the accused are subject to lifetime firearms prohibition bans, and one was on full parole.

Investigation began last year

The seizures were the result of the OPP-led Project Saxom and the HSI-led Project Duel Approach, both of which began investigations last year into two individuals seeking to sell firearms around the GTA.

Police said they eventually uncovered involvement from five separate criminal networks.

HSI Buffalo Special Agent Matthew Scarpino, who led Duel Approach, said investigators discovered an organized “firearm smuggling pipeline” between Florida and international ports of entry in the Buffalo and Niagara regions. 

Multiple undercover operations led to the arrest of a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, Scarpino said, who told undercover agents he would travel to Florida to smuggle firearms up to Canada. That man is being prosecuted in the U.S.

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