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To Curb Violence, Canada Tries to Block Guns From US

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 14, 1995



TORONTO

ERIC WALKER, a Connecticut prison-guard-turned-gun-smuggler, looked to Canada in 1993 and saw dollar signs.

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His firepower commanded high prices from Canada's black-market gun buyers, who face tougher gun laws here than in the US. Canadian and US authorities who followed Mr. Walker's trail say he smuggled at least 50 guns -- possibly as many as 200 -- into Canada, with many ending up in the hands of gangs in Montreal and Toronto. So far, 11 guns sold by Walker have been linked to crimes, police say.

The Walker case is just part of a growing river of ''Saturday Night Special'' handguns and semiautomatic pistols flowing northward to Canada, say law-enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. Fearing their country is turning into a clone of the violence-prone US, Canadians are clamoring for a crackdown.

''We know Canada is a prime market for guns from the US because of our proximity to the States and our large, unguarded border,'' says Geoffrey Francis, who traces guns for the Criminal Intelligence Service of Ontario.

He and other law-enforcement officials say the number of guns smuggled up from the US is probably in the thousands annually. Operation Gun Runner, a nine-month Canadian undercover investigation conducted last year, found that 16 of 17 guns purchased on the black market were smuggled into Canada -- most from the US. A total of 243 weapons were seized and 17 people charged.

''As the [gun] laws up here get tighter, the flow of guns into this country is growing enormously -- along with the smugglers' ingenuity,'' says Constable Francis. Some of the guns have had their serial numbers drilled out, making them harder, sometimes impossible, to trace.

Still, gun smugglers don't have to be particularly bright, police say. All they usually have to do is drive up and merge with a long line of cars waiting to cross the Canada-US border. That's what Walker did.

On Nov. 9, 1993, Walker had just completed his third successful shipment to Canada, selling 20 to 25 pistols over a long weekend in Toronto for an estimated 300 percent profit. He was returning to the US about $5,000 richer when he was arrested at the Canada-US border.

Crossing goes awry

Walker may have felt a twinge of anxiety as he approached the Lewiston-Queenston bridge just north of Niagara Falls that morning. Yet as he well knew, the busy border crossing handled thousands of cars daily -- only a few of them searched.

According to an agent from the Washington-based Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), Walker eased his black 1988 Lincoln Continental up to the US customs booth, ready for the routine questions, ''What's your nationality? Where do you live?''

Then things began to go awry. The customs agent wanted to inspect the car. To a questionnaire asking if he had firearms in the car, Walker answered ''no.'' But in only minutes an inspector discovered a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol hidden in the wheel well of the trunk. Loose .22 ammunition was rolling around inside the car. Littering the interior were scores of receipts for guns purchased at US gun stores.

Walker presented his corrections-officer card and badge and claimed he had a valid pistol permit. But when a customs inspector slammed the passenger door, another pistol clunked onto the floorboard from behind a hidden compartment.

Walker was sentenced last December to four years in prison for transporting firearms across state and country borders and dealing in firearms without a license.