Hamilton·CBC Investigates

Document reveals why Toronto police searched home of renowned gunsmith killed in raid

Search warrant documents obtained by CBC News reveal what prompted Toronto police to want to search the workshop in Simcoe, Ont., of renowned gunsmith Rodger Kotanko.

CBC News obtained the document police used to get search warrant approved in court

Renowned gunsmith Rodger Kotanko died after Toronto police raided his home in Simcoe, Ont., on Nov. 3. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Toronto police went through a renowned gunsmith's workshop in Simcoe, Ont., after two pistols registered under his name were found with their serial numbers removed at two separate crime scenes, according to search warrant documents obtained by CBC News.

The 33-page Information to Obtain (ITO) document was used to get the search warrant approved by a judge or justice of the peace, and offers more details about the evidence police had before the search of Rodger Kotanko's workshop.

Kotanko's family deny the allegations in the ITO.

They also recently filed a $23-million civil lawsuit against five "John Doe" officers, Insp. Norman Proctor, police Chief James Ramer and the Toronto Police Services Board, alleging the "unlawful" raid caused the gunsmith's "wrongful death" on Nov. 3.

Those claims haven't been proven in court. Simcoe Superior Court said Tuesday that no statement of defence has been filed.

Guns in Toronto, North Bay linked to Kotanko

The ITO says Kotanko was a licensed gunsmith for decades, and was allowed to have restricted and prohibited firearms.

It says he owned D.A.R.K. International Trading Co. Inc., which imports guns and gun parts, and R.K. Custom Guns, which offers gunsmithing and gun deactivation. 

His file with the RCMP was over 1,000 pages long, according to the ITO.

In March 2009, the document says, Kotanko notified the Ontario Chief Firearms Office and legally imported 25 Norinco 1911A1 pistol frames. He registered new serial numbers for them, ranging from RKC001 through RKC025, and would turn those gun frames into working guns, the document said.

When police were applying for the warrant, 14 of those frames were still listed as being at Kotanko's property, according to the ITO.

The document says that on Aug. 30, 2021, police saw a reportedly stolen white Mercedes C3G crash while trying to race another vehicle. 

A house.
Kotanko's home on Port Ryerse Road sits left to his workshop, where he did his work as a gunsmith. His family's lawyer, Michael Smitiuch, said Kotanko did work for local police, the military and international clients. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The driver tried to run away, but police arrested the person, who would have been considered a young offender. The document says that while searching the car, Toronto police found a loaded Norinco 1911A1 with an "obliterated" serial number. 

The ITO adds that on Oct. 10, police investigating a possible kidnapping in North Bay found another loaded Norinco 1911A1 with a destroyed serial number after pulling over a Nissan with three Toronto men inside.

The document notes police said the side marking, make, model and serial numbers on both guns weren't "just filed off as seen in the majority of removed serial numbers."

"This was done in an even and what appeared to be professional manner," read the ITO, noting it may have been the work of a milling machine.

When police recovered the serial numbers of the two guns, they were RKC004 and RKC014. An RK Custom engraving on the side of both guns was also removed, police say.

The door into Kotanko's workshop has been closed off due to an SIU investigation. The investigation is set to end in about a month. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The ITO says Ontario Chief Firearms Office documents showed those two guns were registered to Kotanko and were supposed to still be stored at his gunsmithing workshop.

Police allege Kotanko illegally transferred the guns to someone else and removed the serial numbers himself.

The document also states there were no reports of loss, theft, or a break and enter at Kotanko's workshop.

"I can think of few people who would have an interest in remove 'RK Custom' from the slide of a firearm entering the criminal market than the owner and person responsible for storing that fire arm, which in this case is Rodger Kotanko," reads the ITO. 

The ITO also said Kotanko was convicted in 1970 for possessing a narcotic for the purposes of trafficking and possession of a restricted, unregistered firearm. He was sentenced to nine months in custody, according to the document.

Police said they wanted to find evidence to prove the offence — such as like registration certificates, magazines, owner's manuals, transfer documents and other guns — that may have similar milling marks.

His phone could also provide evidence, the ITO says.

Kotanko's family denies allegations

Kotanko's family and their lawyer, Michael Smitiuch, deny the allegations.

Smitiuch previously told CBC Hamilton that Kotanko passed the Ontario Chief Firearms Office's inspections and wouldn't break the law.

He added that if Kotanko did try to break the law, he would have been knowledgable enough to know a milling machine wouldn't be sufficient to remove the serial number.

Smitiuch previously said Kotanko had a log book with all of his records and transactions, and that could prove his innocence — but they couldn't access it because Toronto police still had it.

A photo of Kotanko and his wife, Jessie, is held by Kotanko's son Conner. The family's lawyer, Michael Smitiuch, stands in front. The family has filed a $23-million civil lawsuit against Toronto police. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Smitiuch and the family also said the convictions from 1970 were irrelevant and prejudicial because Kotanko still passed all of the regular inspections.

They described the gun related to that prior conviction as a flintlock pistol similar to what can be seen in Pirates of the Caribbean and said the gun didn't take any bullets.

They also said Kotanko never dealt drugs, yet the charge says there was intent of trafficking because of the amount of cannabis he had.

SIU investigation supposed to end in March

The questions the ITO doesn't answer are why police decided to approach the situation the way they did — and if there could have been a better way.

Ontario's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, is still investigating what happened related to the gunsmith's death, and Toronto police have their own internal investigation underway.

The police watchdog has a mandate to finish an investigation in 120 days. That means the investigation should be done in about a month.

When it's over, the SIU director will release a public report about the findings only if there are no grounds to charge police with a crime.

If the officer who shot Kotanko is charged, the matter will be before the courts, which would likely stall the civil lawsuit.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

With files from Zach Dubinsky