By MARIA MCCLINTOCK, SUN OTTAWA BUREAU
OTTAWA -- The illegal gun trade between Canada and the U.S. has gotten the attention of U.S. President George W. Bush's administration.
The U.S. government is operating Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms offices in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, and there may be further expansion on the horizon.
"We are growing. Toronto is the largest city in Canada and so it just seems logical to put some of our additional resources in that city," said ATF special agent Mark Curtin.
As part of the expansion plans, the ATF's top security Internet gun-tracing program - E-Trace - will be expanded to the RCMP and its gun-smuggling support team, known as NWEST, in the coming weeks, according to Curtin.
Curtin, who is currently posted at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, is restricted in what he can divulge.
But he can say that the co-operation that exists between his organization and Canadian counterparts at the Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit in Ontario (PWE) and the RCMP, has resulted in illegal guns being traced successfully on a regular basis.
He cites a recent case in which his office was called upon to help out PWE on an "urgent trace" in connection with a shooting in Toronto. The information on the gun in question was fed into ATF's headquarters in West Virginia and a hit came back within two hours, Curtin said.
"The public should know that there are aggressive professional partnerships and programs going on across Canada and the United States. Unfortunately, we only hear about the problems or issues that may arise, and the general public is not advised about the great, solid work done by outfits like PWE and the RCMP," he said.
But Curtin admits it's difficult to pin down an exact number of guns coming into Canada illegally.
"The ambassador (David Wilkins) said that we either can change the U.S. constitution or we can shut
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down the border and search every car going back and forth between the U.S. and Canada - and neither one of those things is going to happen," Curtin said.
"The way guns are coming into Canada is the way they've been coming into Canada for a number of years -- two or three at a time."
The good news is that advancements in technology and communications have greatly enhanced the ability of law-enforcement agencies to trace the source of illegal weapons.
When ATF started tracing guns used in crime in 1988, 48 weapons were U.S.-sourced. By 2004, ATF had traced 260,000 guns used in crimes committed in the U.S., Canada and other countries.
PWE's commander, Ontario Provincial Police Det. Insp. Steve Clegg, works with the ATF on an ongoing basis and agrees that trying to pin down a specific number of guns getting into Canada illegally is a bit like chasing a ghost.
"It's not uncommon that some of the guns that we seize do originate from the United States, but we also have issues domestically, where we have guns that are being stolen from residences, businesses and turned over to the street to the criminal market," Clegg told Sun Media.
His unit was formed in 1994 and is made up of 42 detectives from 12 Ontario police departments, including the RCMP and Canada Customs.
How do police battle the gun wars raging on the streets of some of Canada's big cities?
Clegg said specialty squads like his are one answer, and if judges would punish gun-toting criminals to the fullest extent of the law, that would help too.
"In some cases we do see it happening. In others we see the Criminal Code could be applied in a better manner," Clegg added.
He said that the "criminal element" isn't looking for rifles or shotguns -- they're in the market for more easily concealed weapons.
In 2004, Clegg's unit seized more than 1,800 firearms. So far this year, PWE has seized more than 600 guns and laid 920 Criminal Code charges against 170 people.
"Are you going to stem the demand for firearms? I don't think you are. There's always going to be a demand," Clegg said.
"Why are we experiencing so many shootings in Toronto right now? Why does a 16-year-old punk need to have a gun?" Clegg asked.
"There is no magic answer. Let's try and eliminate some of these violent shootings and get a grip on the violence."
Customs and Excise Union president Ron Moran said more stringent controls at the border are needed.
Border guards currently seize an estimated 5% of illegal guns believed to be transported from the U.S. into Canada.
"What it says is there is a very, very high potential law-enforcement opportunity that's knowingly being given up," Moran said.
"There are 225 unguarded roads that cross into the country, most of which you can use without driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle and most of which are plowed during the winter.
"To leave them unguarded completely is ludicrous," Moran added, calling for an American-style border patrol.
So US tax monies are being spent on Canadian gun control?
I didn't read the whole thing. Does BATFE's interest mean that Pooby's cousins can ship good stuff down here, or does it mean that we can sell Pooby single shot .22 rifles for $900.00 each?
First our porn and now our illegal canadian Sig 550's WHERE WILL IT END
They ain't getting enough of it here.