A gun smuggling investigation led by Toronto Police with the assistance of other agencies has resulted in the seizure of 30 handguns, drugs and cash.
Earlier this year, the Firearms Enforcement Unit – a sub-unit of the Integrated Gun & Gang Task Force – launched an investigation into individuals suspected to be involved in street-level sales of illicit handguns in the Greater Toronto Area.
The investigation was dubbed Project Belair.
At a news conference at police headquarters on November 7, Deputy Chief James Ramer said it was apparent that the guns were being smuggled across the border in vehicles.
“They were destined for the GTA to be sold to the criminal element,” he said.
Through collaboration of the Toronto Police Service, the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms and the Canada Border Services Agency, a woman driving a rented car was stopped on October 31 while trying to enter Canada at the Peace Bridge border crossing at Fort Erie.
A search of the vehicle resulted in the seizure of 25 handguns that were stashed inside the vehicle’s gas tank. She was taken into custody and held for Toronto Police.
D/Sgt. Donald Belanger said it is uncommon to see firearms concealed in this way.
“The handguns were actually in the gas tank and immersed in gasoline,” he said. “Each gun had been individually packaged in plastic, I guess, in an effort to protect them from the gasoline. For me, this is absolutely a first.”
Further investigative efforts led to the arrests of three additional people who are alleged to be participants of this illegal firearms operation. They were subsequently located in various parts of the GTA and taken into custody on November 1.
“I think we have effectively dismantled one firearm importation ring,” said Belanger. “That always has a positive impact on community safety. There is a purpose for every one of these guns in that they were going to be sold to the criminal element in the GTA. Anytime we can prevent that, especially to this degree, it is obviously a good day for us.”
Belanger said the handguns, with the exception of one, have serial numbers and have so far been traced to Florida and Georgia. It is believed the guns may have been bought for $300 to $500 and can have a street value of $2,000 to $5,000 in Toronto when sold illegally.
Ramer said Project Belair is another example of the outstanding results that can be achieved in combatting illicit gun activity through multi-agency collaboration.
“It is impossible to put a number on how many shootings, and even murders, that this seizure has prevented,” he said. “As a Service, we remain committed and vigilant in our efforts to undermine the efforts of criminals who choose to carry guns on the streets of our city.”
A total of 13 search warrants were executed on vehicles and homes linked to the investigation.
In total, 30 handguns, including the 25 seized at the Peace Bridge border crossing, 16 over-capacity magazines, 136 rounds of various calibre ammunition, 166 grams of powder cocaine, 111 grams of crack cocaine, 13 kilograms of marijuana and approximately $45,000 from proceeds of crime were seized during the project.
Rita Mansour, 50, of Toronto, has been charged with numerous offences related to the Pace Bridge crossing seizure. She appeared in bail court on Nov. 1 and was held in custody.
William Datta, 41, of Ajax, is facing firearms trafficking, possession of proceeds of crime and possession of crack and powder cocaine for the purpose of trafficking charges.
Colin Levy and Alan Cunningham, both 52, of Brampton are also facing firearms and drug charges.
Cunningham and Datta appeared in bail court on November 6 and were held in custody.
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