Police arrest St. Boniface man in 'straw-man' gun trafficking scheme

Officers found four guns — three handguns and an AR-15 rifle — in a traffic stop and subsequent search of a St. Boniface home late last month, says Winnipeg police Const. Rob Carver.

Guns and gang unit makes bust in trafficking method Winnipeg police say could be on the rise

‪Winnipeg police Insp. Max Waddell holds up a restricted AR-15 rifle that was seized during a recent search of a St. Boniface man's property. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Winnipeg police say so-called "straw-man" gun trafficking could be on the rise in Manitoba, after the arrest of a St. Boniface man who was charged with gun trafficking last month.

A straw-man purchase is when someone with a clean record obtains a possession acquisition licence (PAL), buys a gun legally, and then illegally sells it to someone else.

That person "uses the guns for ill means and particularly to protect the drug trade," said Winnipeg police Insp. Max Waddell.

On June 28, Ontario Provincial Police pulled over a 35-year-old driver in Sioux Lookout and found a loaded 9-mm handgun in the vehicle.

The gun turned out to be registered to a Winnipeg man who hadn't reported the firearm stolen or lost, said Winnipeg police Const. Rob Carver.

Investigators then arrested that man, a 45-year-old who lives in St. Boniface. During a search of his home, police seized a 9-mm Beretta handgun, a 9-mm Smith & Wesson handgun and a restricted Smith & Wesson AR-15 rifle.

Two handguns and an AR-15 were seized from a St. Boniface home recently. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

The 45-year-old was charged with weapons trafficking and two counts of illegal storage of a firearm or restricted weapon.

He was released on a promise to appear in court.

The investigation was carried out by the Winnipeg police guns and gangs unit, which formed this spring.

Waddell said one of the reasons for forming the unit in the first place was a belief that straw-man purchasing was already going on in Winnipeg and needed to be investigated more thoroughly.

"Our firearms-related offences are increasing, we're seeing more violence, so we have to also combat that by doing more investigations and try to get to the root of where these firearms are coming from," he said, adding gun crime is closely linked to meth and other drug crime that is on the rise.

The majority of illegally obtained guns flowing into Winnipeg aren't necessarily smuggled in from abroad or stolen and resold locally, he said.

"That's not always the case, and this is the perfect example of what our belief is, and what caused the formation of the unit," Waddell said. Guns are also trafficked through word of mouth and the dark web online, he added.

This style of semi-automatic AR-15 rifle can be purchased at sporting good stores in Canada and is typically meant for target practice, said Waddell. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

All handguns are classified as restricted in Canada, as is the AR-15 rifle. The restricted category involves augmented background checks, as well as stricter storage and transportation rules, among other restrictions. Restricted guns can only legally be discharged at certified gun ranges.

The AR-15 rifle seized by Winnipeg police wasn't the military-style version that has been used in U.S. mass shootings, said Waddell, but rather a semi-automatic "civilianized" version that would typically be used for target shooting.

"This was bought legally and was intended to be placed in the hands of someone who should not possess this firearm," said Waddell.

"But you can see as law enforcement, if we were confronted with this as law enforcement, what our potential reaction would have to be to this."

Waddell said it's not difficult for someone to get into straw-man gun sale arrangements if they want to.

"That's what's alarming to police," he said.