30 handguns seized in investigation into cross-border smuggling: Toronto police

Police display firearms seized during a police investigation called Project Belair. Toronto Police Service

TORONTO – A woman accused of smuggling guns in the gas tank of her rental car was part of an elaborate cross-border firearms trafficking operation that has been dismantled, Toronto police alleged Wednesday as they announced multiple arrests in the case.

Thirty guns, more than a hundred rounds of ammunition, 13 kilograms of marijuana and 280 grams of cocaine in various forms were seized in a multi-jurisdictional investigation involving the Toronto Police, the Canada Border Services Agency and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

“I think we’ve effectively dismantled one firearm importation ring,” said acting Insp. Don Belanger, standing at a podium surrounded by the handguns and bags of drugs that officers had seized. “Every one of these guns, there’s one purpose for it. They’re to be sold to the criminal element in Toronto and the GTA.”

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The probe came to a head when a woman was caught at the Peace Bridge border crossing late last month allegedly trying to smuggle 25 of those guns into Canada, he said, noting that each handgun had been individually wrapped in plastic and submerged in the gas tank of her rented Nissan Rogue.

“Every single one of these guns ended up doused in gasoline, so they did a very poor job of sealing them,” he said. “For me, this is absolutely a first.”

The Oct. 31 arrest of 50-year-old Rima Mansour of Toronto, who is facing 27 gun trafficking charges, led officers to carry out 13 search warrants in Toronto and neighbouring Peel and Durham regions, Belanger said.

As a result, three others were arrested on Nov. 1 and are facing drug and gun charges.

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Alan Cunningham, 52, of Brampton, Ont., faces 14 charges, including trafficking in firearms, trafficking in ammunition and conspiracy to traffic firearms. Colin Levy, 52, also of Brampton, is facing eight charges that include possession of a prohibited firearm, as well as drug trafficking. William Datta, 41, of Ajax, Ont., faces 11 charges including possessing firearms for the purpose of trafficking.

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Belanger said they weren’t tied to any particular criminal organization.

“It’s interesting when you see the ages of the accused,” he said. “These aren’t young people, they’re people in their 40s and 50s who are funnelling guns to criminal street gangs.”

The arrests come after a summer of high-profile gun violence in Toronto – including a shooting rampage that left an 18-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl dead on bustling Danforth Avenue.

Belanger said that while Toronto police believe this particular suspected trafficking ring has been dismantled, an American investigation is ongoing as officers look for the people who initially purchased the firearms in Florida and Georgia.

“What we’re alleging is that lawful gun owners in the States are purchasing handguns for maybe $300 to $500, having them smuggled across the border and then selling them here,” he said. “These guns that you see before you could sell from anywhere between $2,000 to $5,000 on the streets of Toronto.”

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