Border agents want more resources to stop gun smuggling

In the wake of Project Traveller, the union representing border agents in Canada is calling for more resources to stop gun smuggling.
Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews says the government has increased our frontline border guards by 26 per cent since 2006. (File Photo)

In the wake of Project Traveller, the union representing border agents in Canada is calling for more resources to stop gun smuggling.

Thursday, police from across Ontario seized guns and drugs from a number of alleged gang members. Many of them are connected to the Dixon Road Bloods of Toronto, police say.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair claimed Friday that 70 per cent of illegal firearms in Canada come from the U.S. and that "many" seized Thursday originated in the States.

Blair called the route between the Windsor-Detroit border and Toronto "a pipeline" for the illegal gun and drug trade. Windsor Police Chief Al Frederick has previously categorized Windsor's border as "a gateway" for the trade.

"It's long been established that's the case," said Jason McMichael, first national vice president of the Customs and Immigration Union. "Particularly in Windsor, there are a lot of drugs and guns coming across that border."

A database, obtained by CBC News Network's Power & Politics through the Access to Information Act, shows that last year,  a combined 73 were seized the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in Windsor. Ten guns were seized at Toronto International Airport.

By contrast, according to McMichael, Toronto's airport has access to 10-12 detector dogs. Two remain in Windsor, the busiest land border crossing in North America.

"There should probably be five. [Minister of Public Safety] Vic Toews' suggestion of two detector dog teams [in Windsor], he wears that like a badge of honour. I would suggest that's half of what we need," McMichael said. "More cars and trucks cross that border than anywhere else. Obviously, the bad guys recognize ... the odds are in their favour to get things through."

An email to a CBSA spokesperson requesting the number of dogs used in Toronto wasn't immediately answered.

The Canada Border Services Agency last year seized twice the number of weapons at border crossings compared to six years ago, according to a CBC News analysis of agency data, but experts fear little progress is being made in stemming the flow of illegal guns into Canada.

McMichael says more needs to be done.

"The government needs to take the threat of smuggling seriously. They need to beef up our borders," he said.

65,000 guns seized since 2006

Julie Carmichael, spokesperson for Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews says the government has "increased our frontline border guards by 26 per cent" since 2006.

In 2012, the government announced 1,026 jobs would be eliminated within three years. It also cut 19 sniffer dogs from the budget.

At that time, CBSA spokeswoman Esme Bailey said in an email to CBC News would be "little to no impact on front line services for travellers and traders who are crossing our borders."

Carmichael said this week that, since 2006, the CBSA and the National Weapons Enforcement Support Team have seized over 65,000 illegal weapons at the border.

"We have taken action to strengthen our laws and to stop violent crime and illegal firearms," she said. Guns make up approximately one third of all weapons confiscated by border officials. The number of seizures tally in the hundreds annually.

That compares to tens of thousands of illegal guns nabbed in police operations such as Project Traveller.

For example, in 2011, the CBSA seized 673 guns at ports of entry such as land border crossings, airports, ports and mail centres. By comparison, police seized 33,727 firearms that year, according to Canadian Firearms Program statistics.

McMichael says Canadian border agents would seize more guns and drugs if given more resources.

"It's a question of our members being asked to do more with less," McMichael said. "They need more help."