The Canada Border Services Agency last year seized twice the number of weapons at border crossings compared to six years ago, according to a CBC News analysis of agency data, but experts fear little progress is being made in stemming the flow of illegal guns into Canada.
The database, obtained by CBC News Network's Power & Politics through the Access to Information Act, shows that while guns make up about a third of all weapons confiscated by border officials, the seizures only tally in the hundreds annually.
That compares to tens of thousands of illegal guns nabbed in police operations on Canadian streets each year.
For example, in 2011, the CBSA seized 673 guns at ports of entry such as land border crossings, airports, ports and mail centres. By comparison, police seized 33,727 firearms that year, according to Canadian Firearms Program statistics. Many of these illegal firearms are believed to have come from outside the country.
Analysis of the CBSA data shows that switchblades, brass knuckles, tear gas or pepper spray canisters, butterfly knives and stun guns make up the remaining two-thirds of weapons seized at ports of entry.
But police are most concerned about handguns and other illegal firearms entering the country, with entry hotspots being the Vancouver area and southern Ontario, the two regions of the country with the busiest border crossings.
Americans neglect to declare weapons
The CBSA declined to make someone available for an interview, but a spokesperson said in an email to CBC News that most of the guns its officers find belong to Americans who neglected to declare them, not criminals.
While the agency does nab criminals attempting to smuggle weapons, and publicizes the seizures in news releases, border busts involving suspected criminals are not common, leading experts to conclude the weapons are evading detection at the border.
"[The CBSA] doesn't have any solid risk models for how we seize guns," says Christian Leuprecht, an associate professor at the Royal Military College and Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., who specializes in organized crime.
"And given that the United States is unlikely to do away with the Second Amendment [which gives citizens the right to bear arms], we have to come up with a strategy as to what we’re going to do to stem the flow."
According to police officers and organized crime experts, smuggled guns are typically purchased from a handful of states, such as Georgia and Ohio, with lax gun laws. In many cases, middlemen transport the firearms across busy border points, usually by hiding them in concealed compartments in vehicles or strapping them to their bodies. Seldom do they get pulled over for a more detailed "secondary inspection," allowing them to deliver their guns to customers, typically gang members and organized crime.
Complicating matters is the internet.
Quebec soldier charged
While CBC News analysis of the agency's database reveals that gun seizures at the country's mail centres in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are small — just 14 in 2012 — the number of all weapons seized at mail centres rose sharply over the six years, to 899 in 2012 from 47 in 2007.
The mail and the internet figured prominently in the arrest last week of Quebec soldier David Theriault, who was charged with more than 30 illegal weapons production and trafficking offences.
Ontario Provincial Police said raids conducted at CFB Borden and several locations in Quebec netted hundreds of firearms, gun enhancements and parts, including silencers and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
The Quebec soldier is alleged to have attempted to create an international smuggling ring, which would have allowed individuals on five continents to use parts such as "selector switches" to turn semi-automatic guns into fully automatic weapons allegedly intended to "kill people," according to Patricia Dobbin, the Det.-Insp. running the Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit. Theriault is to appear in court Thursday in Barrie, Ont.
There's another development that could turn out to be a boon for smugglers, at least according to a report released by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute last week.
In the report, co-author Christian Leuprecht argues negotiations with the United States to ease the flow of goods across the border while tightening security will actually make it easier for organized criminals to smuggle drugs and guns in truck containers.
"As transnational organized crime groups become increasingly sophisticated in the crimes they perpetrate, the jurisdictions they exploit and the methodologies they employ, it would be unwise to assume that the border can be an effective point of interdiction."
The CBSA, already facing criticism that recent and planned cuts will make it even more difficult to stop smugglers, argues that it will work with the U.S. to increase intelligence as part of the Beyond the Border initiative.
In its most recent performance report, the agency asserts that it "uses automated risk assessment systems and intelligence to identify potential risks to the security and safety of people and goods."
Candice Bergen, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety, insisted cuts at CBSA will have no impact front-line officers or seizures at the border. She also noted during an interview on CBC News Network's Power and Politics with Evan Solomon that most weapons are intercepted at an unmanned border point.
"The fact is, the majority of illegal guns are not coming across at points of entry, they're coming across unmanned areas," she told host Solomon. "And that's where the RCMP and other law enforcement obviously have an important role and important task in terms of not only intelligence because that's what helps at the points of entry with CBSA but working together with our American counterparts to stop guns."
Also on HuffPost:
What does this new bill on the gun registry do?
We keep hearing about scrapping the long-gun registry, but really what we're talking about is scrapping the requirement for people to register their rifles and shotguns - that's what Bill C-19 aims to do by making amendments to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act. Once passed, people will not have to register their non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms. It also provides for the destruction of existing records in the Canadian Firearms Registry for those firearms. <em>With files from CBC</em>
What exactly is the registry?
It's a centralized database overseen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that links firearms with their licensed owners. It contains information about all three types of guns that must be registered - non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. (All firearms must be registered.) To register a firearm, you have to have a licence to possess it.
Does the bill make any changes to licensing requirements?
No. Canadian residents need a licence in order to possess and register a firearm or ammunition and that won't change. There are a couple of different kinds of licences because of various changes to laws and regulations over the years.
What are long guns?
There are three types of guns under Canadian law: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Most common long guns - rifles and shotguns - are non-restricted but there are a few exceptions. A sawed-off shotgun, for example, is a prohibited firearm. A handgun is an example of a restricted firearm. Different regulations apply to different classifications of firearms.
How many guns are we talking about?
As of September 2011, there were about 7.8 million registered guns. Of those, 7.1 million are non-restricted firearms.
Why does the government want to get rid of the long-gun registry?
The government says it is wasteful and ineffective at reducing crime and targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals, who don't register their firearms.
Who wants to keep it?
Police and victims' groups are big supporters of the registry. Police say the database helps them evaluate a potential safety threat when they pull a vehicle over or are called to a residence. They also say it helps support police investigations because the registry can help determine if a gun was stolen, illegally imported, acquired or manufactured. This year, the RCMP says police agencies accessed it on average more than 17,000 times a day.
When will the registry cease to exist?
The government has passed the legislation and the registry no longer exists. Except for in Quebec, where an ongoing court challenge means the owners must still register their guns in the province.
Why does the government want to destroy the records?
The government is doing this to ensure that no future non-Conservative government can recreate the registry. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has also made it clear that if any province wants to set up its own registry it would get no help from the federal government. The Conservatives are so fundamentally opposed to the existence of the records, because they say they focus on law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, that they don't want them available for anyone to use.
How much does the registry cost?
The registry cost more than $1 billion to set up in 1995 and the cost was the source of much controversy. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Oct. 25 that the government's best estimate is that it costs about $22 million a year to operate. That's the entire registry, not just the long-gun portion, but he noted most of the guns in the registry are long guns. He said he didn't know how much money scrapping the requirement to register long guns would save the government. Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner says there are also "hidden costs" that are borne by provincial and municipal police agencies to enforce the registry.