A months-long investigation into an alleged criminal enterprise has led to the arrest of six people and the seizure of 62 firearms that police say were “destined” for Toronto streets.
The investigation, dubbed ‘Project Barbell,’ began in the fall of 2021 after members of the Toronto Police Service’s Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force became aware of two individuals that were suspected of trafficking firearms within the city.
Police say that officers ultimately executed a series of search warrants at addresses and vehicles associated with the suspects on May 28 of this year.
The search warrants led to the seizure of 62 firearms and a large quantity of ammunition and firearm parts, including overcapacity magazines.
Police say that the “majority” of the firearms were seized following a search warrant that was executed at an apartment building near Ellesmere and Markham roads.
Police seized additional items, including a quantity of ammunition and a bulletproof vest, following the execution of separate search warrants at addresses in Scarborough and Rexdale.
Two of the suspects taken into custody were also found to be personally in possession of firearms at the time of their arrests, police say.
“While we are here to show the public the results of a successful investigation, this is not a good news story,” Police Chief James Ramer said during a news conference at TPS headquarters on College Street on Monday morning. “We should all be disturbed by gun seizure of this magnitude.”
Police say that many of the seized firearms are Glock-style pistols which can be purchased in the United States for under $1,000 and then resold on Toronto streets for between $4,500 and $6,000.
Of the 62 firearms seized, police say that they were able to trace 57 of them back to the United States.
Only one firearm originated in Ontario. It was determined to have been stolen during a break-and-enter in 2021.
“It is about return on investment,” Supt. Steve Watts said of the cross-border gun trade.
“If you are paying under $1,000, which you would be paying in the U.S., and you can turn that into $6,000 (upon resale), you are looking at about $5,000 profit per item.”
Police have laid a total of 260 charges against the six suspects taken into custody as a result of “Project Barbell.”
One suspect, 27-year-old Syed Mohammed Ali Zaidi, is also facing additional charges in relation to a shooting that took place inside Bar Karma near Queen and Portland streets on Oct. 19, 2021.
“This incident happened in a crowded bar after an altercation between two opposing groups. Evidence at the time was circumstantial. Consequently, Mr. Zaidi was not charged at that time,” Watts said. “After he was arrested in relation to this project, our centralized shooting response team investigators were able to confirm him as their shooting suspect specifically by specific tattoos and physical descriptors.”
Watts said that he believes the firearms seized by police were intended to be resold within the Greater Toronto Area.
He said that the haul included “three AK-type rifles, one of which was loaded with 61 rounds of ammunition,” as well as 15 “AR-15 type carbine style rifles.”
“This was a supply to be sold on the streets of Toronto,” he said.
Reacting to news of the bust while attending a meeting of big city mayors in Ottawa on Monday, Toronto Mayor John Tory called it an “excellent piece of police work.”
But he said it is a reminder of the work that needs to be done to reduce the flows of guns that come into Canada via the U.S. border.
“I think we can't rely on local police services to find the people trafficking these guns. That means they're already here and the best place to cut this off is at the border, to stop the guns from coming across from the US, which is where they're coming from,” he said. “Perhaps we could work with the Government of Canada to do more of this. It is a border matter. But it is a serious, serious problem and it is leading to death and trauma in communities.”
For a full list of charges follow this link.