Streit Group clients for armoured cars include alleged gang members
Ex-employee says company did things that 'did not make a lot of sense to me'
A Canadian company criticized by the United Nations for selling armoured patrol cars in war-torn African nations has had controversial clients closer to home, CBC News has learned.
The Streit Group, heavily promoted last year by the Global Affairs Department as a rising star in the export market, has on at least two occasions sold - or modified - sport utility and luxury vehicles to people with alleged gang connections.
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Sources connected to the criminal justice system in B.C. tell CBC News the Innisfil, Ont., company was responsible for adding armoured plates to a BMW 745i, leased to the Bacon brothers (Jonathan, Jamie and Jarrod), who were well-known to the province's integrated gang task force.
The three brothers, including Jonathan who died in a 2011 gang slaying, were involved in drug trafficking and firearms offences. They were even implicated in a rash of homicides in the greater Vancouver area.
Their leased BMW, with four-centimetre-thick bulletproof glass and gun ports, was seized by authorities after it was found abandoned on Highway 1 outside Vancouver in late January 2009. Police later seized several other armoured luxury vehicles leased to the brothers.
Separately, court records and police wiretap evidence show that in late 2006 Streit sold two armoured SUVs — a Nissan Armada and a Toyota 4Runner — to an associate of Montreal's notorious Rizzuto family, whom police allege to have Mafia ties.
The records were filed as part of the case against Francesco Del Balso, who along with five other Montrealers pleaded guilty to a series of criminal charges.
A spokesman for Streit was asked several times for comment, but declined.
But in a 2008 interview with the Toronto Star, company officials described how businessmen and the ultra-rich were seeking out the protection of bulletproof vehicles.
The company recently ran afoul of the UN for selling armoured patrol vehicles in South Sudan and Libya through its United Arab Emirates branch.
The RCMP are reviewing whether two of those deals violated international sanctions, but have refused to say whether they have launched a full-fledged investigation.
At issue in those cases is whether the Streit Group knew that its unarmed vehicles intended for local police would be outfitted with machine guns and used in each country's civil war.
The company, responding to UN investigators and CBC News last summer, denied any wrongdoing. It said it was not responsible for any "modifications" and had no control over what customers did with their vehicles.
Limited market at home
A former employee, who asked not to be identified, said he didn't witness any dealings with alleged gang members.
But the ex-staffer also said the company has done very little business in Canada over the last few years, with the exception of modifying luxury vehicles with bulletproof glass and plates in a process known as "up-armouring."
The Streit Group, in a statement to CBC News last summer, said it does not sell armoured patrol vehicles — the kind that has drawn the ire of the UN — in Canada or the U.S.
It does offer Brinks-style armoured trucks, but the former employee claims the plant in Innisfil has not produced one of those in years.
"The production area just simply wasn't in operation. There were no vehicles being built," said the employee. "It didn't make a whole lot of sense. No sales of cash and transit vehicles in four years. No pursuing government tenders, and that only left the luxury and SUV market."
The former employee said Streit management reassured him.
"The company's position was, well, we do nothing illegal," said the source, who added the latest information is disappointing.
"I'm sure selling products to organized crime is not illegal. But for a company that's supposed to be an industry leader, you would think they would be able to pass on that sort of business."
The RCMP were asked if they had any concerns about the company's domestic operation, but did not respond.
The latest revelations will likely prompt more questions about the federal government's commercial support for the company.
We were promised openness. We were promised transparency. We've got none of that.- Hélène Laverdière, NDP foreign affairs critic
Streit was founded in the mid-1990s by businessman Guerman Goutorov, a former Russian police officer who immigrated to Canada, and Anton Stefov, a mechanical engineer from Bulgaria.
In addition to touting Streit as a "world-class manufacturer" in a May 1, 2015, statement, the Global Affairs Department — two years earlier — purchased two modified armoured SUVs in a $201,626 sole-source contract.
Those vehicles were apparently intended for use at embassies in high-risk countries.
The department refused to answer questions about what it knew of the company's history. It would only say sole-source purchases are not the norm and the vehicles were bought when the government's usual supplier wasn't available.
It also refused to answer questions about the kind of backing the company received for its marketing abroad and whether it benefited from a $50-million export program.
NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said the Liberal government's silence is outrageous.
"We were promised openness. We were promised transparency. We've got none of that," said Laverdière, whose attempt to create a parliamentary committee to oversee Canadian arms sales was shot down by the Liberal government two weeks ago. "They won't even answer basic questions."
Relocation on hold
Barrie is a growing community and there's lots of good things happening here without ethically challenged companies presenting themselves.- Rod Jackson , CEO of Barrie, Ont., Chamber of Commerce
Streit announced with a certain degree of fanfare in January 2015 that it was building a new manufacturing facility in Barrie, Ont., replacing one in nearby Innisfil.
There was a promise of at least 40 new jobs.
But while there is still a "for sale" sign on the current property, Streit has signalled to municipal officials that the move is on hold.
The mayor of Barrie said he doesn't believe the plans are cancelled, but the recent spate of public criticism has cast a shadow.
"It's disappointing," said Jeff Lehman, who wouldn't indicate whether Streit would still be welcome in the community.
"What I would say: We don't really have any capacity as a municipality, obviously, to monitor these kinds of international arms trade [issues], but we're concerned about what we've heard and obviously the impact that will have on their move."
The head of the local chamber of commerce takes a different tack and suggested the hesitation is not entirely a bad thing.
"It's not something that I think any of our members or anyone in our business community want to be associated with, regardless of the fact that they might bring a few jobs," said Rod Jackson, the chamber's CEO. "Barrie is a growing community and there's lots of good things happening here without ethically challenged companies presenting themselves."