Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino spent much of the past week on the road, promoting his government’s new gun control bill to Canadians just as Canadians witnessed another wave of mass shootings south of the border.

But for all the attention being paid to proposed measures that would freeze handgun ownership in this country, ban the sale of long-gun magazines that hold more than five rounds and implement a mandatory buyback of assault-style weapons, there’s growing concern that the Canada-U.S. border is no barrier to gangs smuggling guns into this country.

Mendicino told CBC’s The House in an interview airing this weekend that he’s aware of the concerns.

He said his department is working to give law enforcement the tools they need to counter increasingly sophisticated smugglers who use high-speed boats, hidden compartments in trucks, drones and even helicopters to supply a lucrative market for illegal weapons in this country.

CBC News: The House28:08Canada’s gun smuggling problem

A mother whose son was killed by a stray bullet, a leader of a cross-border Mohawk community, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Conservative critic Raquel Dancho each discuss how Canada should regulate firearms and stop gun smuggling.

“We’ve already provided $350 million specifically for the purposes of fighting organized crime and we’re going to renew that particular fund in the coming weeks and months,” Mendicino said, adding Bill C-21 will increase the maximum sentence for smuggling and give police additional powers in the form of wiretapping and surveillance of suspected criminals.

Mendicino said the government also intends “to make sure” police “use technology, whether it’s X-ray technology, like scanning those commercial vehicles where firearms can be embedded, or even new technologies to surveil the skies.”

Boats, better surveillance needed to stop smugglers: border leader

If those tools are on the way already, Abram Benedict hasn’t seen them.

He’s the grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. The community near Cornwall straddles Ontario, Quebec and New York State along the St. Lawrence River.

“Ultimately it comes down to more cash investments into policing,” he told The House in a separate interview airing this weekend.

Akwesasne Grand Chief Abram Benedict, seen here in March 2020, says communities like his own need more resources to stop gun smugglers. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

“Let me buy more boats of our own to be able to patrol the waters, so that we can use drones, so that we can have better surveillance equipment to be able to continue to combat this problem.”

Canadian authorities have reported record numbers of seizures of illegal firearms at the border in recent years. Mendicino said the most recent statistics show the number of seizures doubled from 2020 to 2021, although he acknowledged that many more guns still got through.

Exact numbers are hard to pinpoint, in part because some police forces don’t trace the firearms they seize. 

But investigators say handguns can be bought for a few hundred dollars at U.S. gun shows with a minimal amount of paperwork, and then smuggled into Canada — where they sell for thousands of dollars.

Buyback, freeze resources better used elsewhere: CPC critic

Evelyn Fox founded Communities for Zero Violence after her son was killed by a stray bullet in 2016. The shooter, who has never been found, fled with the gun.

She said she believes tighter border controls are needed but told The House she believes the problem of gun violence is far more complex than that.

“I mean, if you think about it, we can’t eliminate the firearms that come across the border. It’s not feasible. We’re never going to do that,” she said. “But if we tackle the reasons why someone picks up a firearm in the first place, there wouldn’t be such a demand for them.”

Conservative member of Parliament Raquel Dancho asks a question during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said Bill C-21 won’t make a meaningful contribution to reducing gun violence in Canada and her party would spend far more on combating smuggling and organized crime than the Liberals. 

“If they wanted to get serious about gun smuggling, they would have announced billions of extra dollars for border security and to combat gang activity, which is the source of gun violence in cities like Toronto,” she said.

“And now, the money that is going to be spent on the firearm buyback, for example, and the expenses that will be related to this so-called handgun freeze, those resources would make more of an impact on reducing gun violence if they were spent on hiring more police officers and more border agents. That’s where the impact will be made.”

Grand Chief Benedict said controlling the flow of guns in communities like his is challenging — because of the closeness of the border and because so many Americans own firearms.

“Nothing against my American friends but carrying guns is pretty normal to them. But in Canada, it’s not,” he said.

“In my community you can drive to the Walmart in Massena in New York with the proper ID, buy a gun and walk out of there. You’re not going to do that in Walmart or even the Canadian Tire in Canada.”

Mendicino said he’s spoken with Grand Chief Benedict and is working with his community to address its needs.

“But he’s right,” he said. “We’ve got a lot more to do.”

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