Ontario Provincial Police say raids conducted last week in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas resulted in the arrests of 23 people in connection with the manufacturing and distribution of untraceable firearms.
“We started to notice a trend of these types of firearms that were traced back to this group as early as the beginning of 2017,” OPP Supt. Bryan MacKillop told reporters at a news conference in Vaughan, Ont., Tuesday morning.
Police said the group that was uncovered had been producing restricted and untraceable firearms by using unregulated parts purchased in Canada.
“This was unique in that these were domestically produced restricted firearms that were produced using unregulated parts here locally in Canada,” MacKillop said.
“And because they are untraceable firearms, theoretically, actually being able to get the cell — to the organized crime group that’s manufacturing and distributing these firearms — makes it in and of itself unique.”
VIDEO: OPP speaks about weapons crime ring operating in Toronto area
Investigators said the group was supplying the weapons to individuals linked to street gangs, as well as human and drug trafficking.
“To be able to find this group that is manufacturing and distributing them is actually quite unique and is a big deal,” MacKillop said.
“They are providing in excess of 120 handguns to criminals in the GTA. There is no other reason to own these guns or have access to these guns other than to victimize, hurt or kill individuals.”
Police said up to 400 officers from various law enforcement agencies in southern Ontario took part in the raids as part of Project Renner.
Authorities said they managed to seize 14 handguns, six long guns — including a machine gun and an assault rifle — numerous prohibited weapons and devices such as silencers, grenades and body armour.
VIDEO: Suspects in OPP weapons investigation manufactured, trafficked 120 guns
Drugs seized include 1.2 kilograms of cocaine, 30 grams of methamphetamine, 13 grams of heroin, 66 fentanyl tablets and $85,000 in cash. Police said they also confiscated four vehicles and a residential property.
Police said 23 suspects face a total of 156 offences including participation in criminal organization, possession of a firearm or ammunition, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and possession of a firearm knowing the serial number has been tampered with.
Investigators said the two main accused, Bruce McKinnon of Rockwood, Ont., and Jon Rasmussen of Smithville, Ont., are believed to have manufactured and trafficked in excess of 120 handguns.
MacKillop said the legally obtained gun parts used to build restricted firearms pose a serious risk to public safety and more needs to be done to make sure criminals aren’t able to circumvent Canada’s gun laws.
“We have unregulated parts that are being used to illegally build restricted firearms,” he said. “The question is, ‘Are there regulatory changes that could occur that might be able to assist law enforcement in tracing these untraceable handguns?”
Police would not reveal what gun parts were purchased or how they were used to build illegal firearms.
VIDEO: OPP says crime ring ‘unique’, tracing weapons difficult process