All 27 handguns seized in a probe by multiple Ontario police services appear to have been smuggling from the U.S., with investigators alleging some of the suspects they arrested also pressed lethal amounts of fentanyl into molds to make them appear to be candy.
York Regional Police Insp. Ahmad Salhia says the effort began with a person under investigation for drug trafficking in London, Ont. in Oct. 2021.
It then spread to include allegations of a gun smuggling ring where firearms were brought across the Canada-U.S. border through Walpole Island First Nation west of Wallaceburg, Ont.
Salhia said at its narrowest point, the St. Clair River that separates Walpole Island First Nation from Port Huron, Michigan, is less than one kilometre wide.
He would not say what method was used to get the guns across the river, but said an incident involving guns attached to a drone found in nearby Lambton County in late April is not related to this investigation.
Officers from the OPP, London police, York and Peel regions built their case and then raided 22 homes and two businesses on July 28.
The 27 guns and a quantity of drugs including nine kilograms of cocaine, 1.9 kilograms of fentanyl and 20,000 Xanax pills were allegedly found, and 22 people were taken into custody.
Salhia said some of the fentanyl was pressed “to appear like candy – a car a butterfly or a number of other things.”
If someone was to consume such an item “the outcome would most certainly be fatal,” he said.
Officers also seized 17 overcapacity magazines for the handguns and 300 rounds of ammunition.
The accused parties range in age from their 20s to 67-years-old.
Combined they are facing more than 400 criminal code offences.
An analysis found that 20 of the guns seized were from the U.S., including places such as Florida, Ohio and Michigan.
“We believe that the balance of those firearms, the seven remaining, will also be traced to the U.S.,” Salhia said.
Police at the news conference commended the work of the Walpole Island First Nation, both its band council and police service, with helping them intercept and track the suspects.
Walpole Island First Nation Chief Charles Sampson said his community could be of even more assistance in stopping the cross-border gun trade if it was adequately resourced.
“Our police service is terribly underfunded – we only have nine to eleven officers in the field and we have to protect an international border between Canada and the United States,” he said. “We have one boat, but we need a whole marine division to do our job effectively.”
He urged the provincial and federal governments to give his community more money to beef up its law enforcement capabilities.
“We desperately need adequate funding to get this job done.”