Winnipeg police hunting for maker of homemade guns

A certain type of homemade gun is showing up with increased frequency in Winnipeg, and police say they are zeroed in on finding the person, or people, crafting them.

'All of this is what's causing the surge in violent crime that we've seen in 2019': Insp. Max Waddell

Police say they are seeing 'more and more of this exact model' of homemade gun showing up in Winnipeg. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A certain type of homemade gun is showing up with increased frequency in Winnipeg, and police say they are zeroed in on finding the person, or people, crafting them.

"If you look at how this has been manufactured, this is not simply a bunch of bike parts or pieces from local hardware stores. There's actually been some thought put into this," Insp. Max Waddell, head of the police service's guns and gangs unit, said Tuesday.

"We have seen more and more of this exact model, which tells me that someone in this city is actually manufacturing and selling these."

The majority of improvised guns police see are rudimentary and not always reliably useful, Waddell said at a news conference, where police displayed some of the weapons and other items they seized in a series of recent busts.

But the model police are seeing lately is obviously made by a skilled machinist, he said, noting the person is cutting high-grade metal, boring out the barrels and embedding springs so the firing mechanism works like a real gun.

Holding up one of the guns, recently taken in a bust at the Windsor Hotel in downtown Winnipeg, Waddell said he wasn't sure of the calibre bullet it would fire, but said it would certainly be larger than a .22 and potentially be a 9-mm, which is larger and much more powerful.

"We'll be on the trail for this particular gun," he said.

Insp. Max Waddell says the Windsor Hotel is on the police radar as a trouble spot. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Improvised guns are a major concern for police and attractive to criminals. It's easier to obtain a homemade weapon than a legal firearm or a stolen one that may have been registered at one point, Waddell said.

Police have already seized nearly 70 homemade guns this year, as of the last report in September, he said. Last year there were 52.

The year before that, just six.

"So we're definitely seeing an increase," said Waddell, noting they are often seized hand-in-hand with methamphetamine. Due to the state of paranoia that meth users experience, they like to be armed, he said.

And on Tuesday, the gun he had on display was next to meth, a .22-calibre rifle, cash, a loaded pellet gun, drug packaging materials, additional ammunition and drug-trafficking score sheets also seized by police.

It was all found in a Nov. 4 bust at the Windsor Hotel, which led to numerous charges against a 55-year-old man.

Cache of drugs, guns

That seizure was part of a larger cache of guns, drugs and cash that police displayed for the media Tuesday — all taken during three separate busts over the course of five days at the Windsor, located across the street from the police headquarters.

The first happened on Nov. 2 when members of the guns and gangs unit went to the hotel on Garry Street on a routine call.

While there, officers encountered a man in breach of a court order and arrested him. He had a bag containing $9,000 worth of cocaine, $1,500 worth of crack cocaine, $8,800 worth of an opioid called OxyNeo, a loaded 9-mm handgun and ammunition, a sawed off .22-calibre rifle, shotgun shells, five cellphones and $7,600 in cash.

A 46-year-old man is charged with a range of weapons offences, along with trafficking and theft charges.

Winnipeg police Insp. Max Waddell shows off weapons seized from a bust at the Windsor Hotel. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Two days later came the bust involving the homemade gun, while on Nov. 6, police were back at the hotel again after a report of shots being fired.

During a dispute in the bar, a man hit a 35-year-old woman with the butt-end of a shotgun and then pointed the weapon at her, police said.

The woman swatted it away, causing it to fire into the door of a suite, police said.

The incident happened in the beverage room where anybody could have been socializing, said Waddell.

The man with the gun ran before police arrived but left behind a large bag with two sawed-off shotguns, a loaded .22 rifle and ammunition for both the rifle and shotguns.

A 31-year-old man was arrested on Dec. 11. He has been charged with multiple offences, including assault with a weapon.

Waddell called the items on display "a year-in-review of what the police service has been experiencing" in Winnipeg.

All of it is part of the structure of the illicit drug trade, he said, and "all of this is what's causing the surge in violent crime that we've seen in 2019."

Taking aim at the Windsor

Waddell said the Windsor has been a trouble spot for several years now, recalling an incident earlier this year when someone fired a shotgun that took out the electrical panel at the hotel.

The hotel is known for having a lot of transients and drug activity, so it gets attention from the police, he said.

Police surrounded the Windsor Hotel earlier this year after shots were fired. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Discussions are going on about what can be done to control the behaviour there, and police have spoken with the government regarding the liquor licence for the bar, he said.

Shutting it down completely, as has happened with other bars or hotels, "is most certainly a conversation we need to have … and would be definitely a move in the right direction," Waddell said.

"It's disappointing, to say the least, that individuals would think that it's acceptable not only to have this type of firepower or these illicit drugs but [to have them] within a stone's throw of our police headquarters just shows the attitude [of criminals] — not only towards law enforcement but towards society in general."