Canada and the United States have agreed to crack down on gun smuggling across the shared border by tracing intercepted firearms and sharing intelligence data, officials from the two countries announced Friday.
A series of agreements were signed in Ottawa by Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, as well as Justice Minister David Lametti and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, that will lead to greater collaboration as both nations seek to combat a rise in gun violence.
“It means more joint investigations into gun smuggling and trafficking. It means even more exchanging of intelligence and information between our law enforcement agencies,” Mendicino told reporters after signing the agreements.
“Importantly, it means making even more progress on the tracing of illegal guns so that we can hold those criminals and organized criminal networks to account.”
Canada’s Border Services Agency (CBSA) and RCMP will cooperate with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to trace guns seized at the border to see who purchased them and whether they were previously used in crimes.
Mendicino said there will also be a focus on tracking “ghost guns” — homemade firearms that do not feature serial numbers — that are being increasingly used in crimes. A U.S. ATF report found the use of ghost guns in violent crimes south of the border has risen 1,000 per cent since 2017.
While the Canadian Justice Department has acknowledged the U.S. is the largest source of illegal firearms that are smuggled north of the border, there has been limited data that tracks exactly how many guns come into Canada every year, where they come from, and what they are used for.
The Toronto Police Service have said that 85 per cent of the city’s crime guns are arriving from the U.S.
Overall, Canada only traced six per cent of all guns used in crimes and seized by law enforcement in 2019, according to the RCMP’s 2019 firearms report. In 2020, the overall number of traced firearms rose slightly from 1,768 the year before to 2,143, according to the RCMP.
The new agreements announced Friday are meant to change that, officials said, by strengthening the Cross-Border Firearms Task Force that already works to trace firearms that travel between Canada and the U.S.
Mendicino said advancements in law enforcement technology on both sides of the border will improve tracing and intelligence gathering.
The United States traces guns by requiring firearm dealers to record the serial numbers of the guns they sell and who purchased them. Tracing provides key intelligence to the ATF, which can then investigate and prosecute buyers of firearms that are subsequently sold illegally or smuggled.
“Data and information sharing are powerful tools in the fight against gun violence,” said Garland.
Ghost guns, which are often assembled from parts either bought online or manufactured with home 3D printers, have complicated those efforts, officials said Friday.
The announcements were made under a rebooted Canada-U.S. Cross-Border Crime Forum, which met in Ottawa to discuss joint solutions to gun violence, the opioid crisis, human trafficking and money laundering, among other criminal issues.
The two countries also agreed to help stem the flow of opioids such as fentanyl, with Garland saying they aim to track the ingredients used to create the deadly drug and the flow of its components from China.
A joint statement commits both countries to “build a global coalition against synthetic drugs” that can help counter transnational organized crime and to identify and target shippers and receivers of firearms.
The newly signed agreements also take aim the role of cryptocurrency in money laundering.
The four have pledged to review recent incidents of migrants dying along the border, pledging to hold smugglers accountable and crack down on irregular migration using sensors, personnel and timely information.
Yet the four leaders gave few details as to what had materially changed as a result of Friday’s agreements.
“As the threat landscape proves so dynamic and complex, as changes in that landscape occur, we identify ways in which we can strengthen that partnership and take action,” Mayorkas said.
“It’s all about meeting the moment, meeting the changes that occur and addressing them in real time — sharing actionable, relevant information in real time.”
The American officials said the group also spoke about Haiti, where brazen gangs have filled a political power vacuum and have Washington worried about the spread of guns, drugs and gangs across the region.
Mayorkas and Garland did not dwell on Washington’s request months ago to have Canada lead a military intervention, which Haiti’s unelected government says would help stabilize the country.
Instead, they noted the importance of legal pathways for migration and helping Haiti have a functional police force.
—With files from the Canadian Press and Reuters