Seniors caught smuggling guns at border
Pair of American seniors busted in separate incidents
By NEIL BOWEN & TYLER KULA, THE OBSERVER
Four Americans, including two senior citizens, are charged with trying to smuggle handguns into Canada during the past month at the Blue Water Bridge.
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced Thursday officers had seized 12 handguns during two Aug. 3 incidents.
Two men, aged 70 and 73, were charged with a slew of offences under the Customs Act and Criminal Code.
The 70-year-old Nevada man was released from custody after posting $35,000 bail. A search of his vehicle turned up two weapons, including a loaded handgun.
The 73-year-old California man remains in custody awaiting a bail hearing after 11 handguns were seized during a minivan search.
"Finding 11 guns in a private vehicle is not a common occurrence during a secondary examination," said CBSA regional communications manager Jean D'Amelio Swyer. "This represents a significant seizure by our border services officers."
But 14 of 16 Americans charged with gun smuggling since 2005 have failed to return to Sarnia court after bail was posted, said federal prosecutor Michael Robb.
The other two did not seek bail but were found guilty and sentenced to jail time.
Gun smuggling brings a mandatory jail sentence of three years for first offenders. The mandatory sentence was increased from one year in 2008.
"What's really unfortunate is that judges have no discretion to impose penalties appropriate for the circumstances," said defence lawyer David Stoesser.
He represented the 70-year-old retired American military man released on bail. The man had no prior criminal record.
Parliament has imposed a no-weapons approach at the border. But there's are consequences for telling customs officers the truth about guns, said Robb.
A person declaring a gun can leave it at the border to be collected upon their return. A person declaring a gun who wants to keep it can simply return to the U.S., said Robb.
"We don't like holding onto guns. We would prefer they leave them at home," said D'Amelio Swyer.
Multiple signs on the bridge and approaches remind people of the legal requirement to declare firearms.
Those charged because they did not declare their gun are being required to post steadily increasing amounts of bail in cash. Locally, $35,000 has been the largest amount posted. Recently, two Americans charged in B.C. had bail set at $50,000.
"Age is not a factor in these (local) seizures," said D'Amelio Swyer. "Younger to older individuals have been caught smuggling contraband and other high risk commodities likes guns."
A 47-year-old Minnesota man was charged after a loaded handgun was found in a vehicle July 19 at the bridge. He was released after paying $35,000 bail Aug. 3.
A 39-year-old woman remains in custody after a handgun was seized Aug. 6.
Since January 2008, border officers in southern Ontario have seized 442 firearms.
Canadians have also been charged with importing handguns. A trial is set to continue Friday in Sarnia court for three Toronto people charged after four handguns were seized from a vehicle by Walpole Island Police Nov. 17, 2010.