The Coalition for Gun Control/Pour le Controle des Armes

From Ottawa Citizen, August 16, 2009, Ottawa criminals are increasingly using firearms, whether they’re smuggled from the U.S, stolen, or merely replicas. For police, it’s becoming a Gun Fight

Posted by cgccanada on August 19, 2009

BY NECO COCKBURN

OTTAWA – The handgun, wrapped in a black do-rag, was in a spot where you might expect to see an old essay or loose change: underneath clothes on the floor of a University of Ottawa dorm room. Acting on a tip that Moussa Osman had stashed a rusty silver Llama .45- calibre semi-automatic handgun, police raided the student residence this spring, seizing the weapon, which was loaded with two rounds of ammunition, and $2,710 in cash under the bed. Osman, 23, is alleged by police to have ties to the Crips street gang. He was not a student at the university, but his 18-year-old girlfriend was, and lived in the dorm. On July 31, Osman stood in a prisoner’s box at the Ottawa courthouse and pleaded guilty to possessing the gun, whose discovery in the dorm room Justice David Wake called “chilling.” The case was one of a growing number of handgun-related crimes and seizures over the past year that worry Ottawa police. The number of handguns seized by the force doubled during the first six months of this year, from 54 to 108. During that time, several high-profile gun incidents have shaken various parts of the city. – – Shootings, including the death of a 26-year-old man in May after he was shot inside a crowded ByWard Market club during a weekly hip-hop night. In April, a 65-year-old man was shot by a former employee at his Carp-area home. The suspect fled and was chased by police along Highway 417. When he left his vehicle along the busy highway, the man pulled out a handgun and was shot by police, but died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. – – Gun seizures, including Osman’s case and another incident in March in which a 15-year-old boy allegedly brought an unloaded .357 Magnum handgun to his high school and pointed it at another student. – – Armed robberies, in which teenagers and young adults have allegedly used real or fake handguns. Late last month, a young man showed what appeared to be a handgun and demanded narcotics at a Shoppers Drug Mart on Alta Vista Drive. He fled to a vehicle, according to police, who charged two 17-year-olds and recovered a pellet pistol. In March, shots rang out in a quiet neighbourhood when police fired guns at a suspected 27-year-old bank robber who they believed to be carrying a gun. Bullets hit at least two residential homes and a parked car. The suspect was killed and his gun determined to be a replica. An investigation by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit determined that the officers were not criminally responsible for the death of the man, who “behaved in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to conclude that it was real.” Officers say they’re concerned about an apparent increase in the number of people carrying loaded handguns. They’re also troubled by the popularity of gangsta rap culture that views guns as a fashion accessory, as well as shootings carried out to uphold an image rather than for usual criminal reasons such as enforcement or robberies. Motives during some of the recent shootings in Ottawa involve “nothing more than someone feels that they’ve been dissed or disrespected in some kind of way and the way they choose to retaliate is by taking a gun and firing shots,” said Det. Chris O’Brien of the Ottawa police guns and gangs unit. “That’s happening more and more, and to us as police officers who investigate street gangs … it’s an alarming trend,” said O’Brien, who would not discuss specific cases that remain under investigation or before the courts. Meanwhile, police continue to recover handguns. Det.-Const. Craig Bridgeman of the OPP’s Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit (PWEU) is wary of gun seizure statistics, saying they “can be massaged to say whatever it is you want to say” regarding the touchy issue of guns and gun laws, but officers say that they have also noticed anecdotal evidence of a rise in handgun use during the past 10 years. “One guy gets a gun, the other guy that’s got to protect himself gets a gun,” said acting Staff-Sgt. Steve Bell, the head of the guns and gangs unit. Unlike some weapons, a well-maintained handgun can be kept and moved by criminals for years. “They’re smaller, they’re concealable, they’re basically the ideal type of weapon for a person that seeks to have ease of movement, disguise and be able to carry out various criminal activities,” said O’Brien. They are tools of the trade, police say — instruments to help people get the money and respect that’s sought on the streets. Asmick Jean-Jacques, a former Montreal gangster who tried to expand his turf to Ottawa before he left the lifestyle and became a Christian pastor in 2007, said he knew back in the day that “a gun is power.” “Anybody, I don’t care what size he is, but if I point that thing on him, hey, I’ll get him to do jumping jacks if I want to.” Detectives are quick to point out that not all criminal gun users are gang members, although O’Brien says that more often than not, crime handguns seized in Ottawa come from gang members or people linked to gang activity – — the main purpose of which is drug trafficking. The guns and gangs unit, formed in September 2006, contains detectives who actively seek out guns through methods such as search warrants and the use of confidential informants. The unit’s work could be one reason for the increase in the number of gun seizures in the city, according to police, but veteran officers say they have also seen a rise in the number of people they see carrying loaded handguns. In April, police headed to a Bank Street clothing shop and tattoo parlour after receiving a tip that a gun was seen inside. Officers arrested a man leaving the store and seized a loaded .357 Magnum revolver from his vehicle. “We used to see information about Joe Criminal being in possession of a gun. … but when he was stopped often he didn’t have that firearm on him or it ended up being a replica or an air gun,” said Det.-Const. Chris Benson, a former guns and gangs unit member who has been with Ottawa police for 10 years. After air guns, officers started to find real guns with no ammunition, Benson said. “Now we’re seeing the firearms with ammunition actually being used and discharged.” Benson is currently seconded to the PWEU, a joint forces operation made up of several police forces, along with the Canada Border Services Agency, that is aimed at taking so-called “crime guns” — any firearm used or intended to be used in criminal activity, or any gun with an obliterated serial number — off the street. PWEU’s members, along with some of the detectives in the guns and gangs unit, also trace guns back to their origin using their serial numbers, makes and models. Bridgeman, a 20-year OPP veteran who has been with PWEU for seven years, said about half of the crime guns seized in Ontario are diverted from Canadian gun owners, largely through theft or exploitation, while the other half are smuggled from other countries, usually the U.S. “We don’t have shipping containers of guns from China arriving at the port of Montreal and being distributed to criminals, but what we do have is people who make a lot of money going to the U.S. and exploiting the lighter or lesser laws regarding firearms ownership in some states,” Bridgeman said. Sitting in the basement of the Ottawa police headquarters on Elgin Street, Bridgeman displayed an array of guns seized in Ontario, from an AK-47 recovered after a shooting in Ottawa to a small silver handgun he refers to as a “throwaway,” or “Saturday night special.” “That’s a gun that’s purchased for $80 at a flea market in Florida and driven here and sold in the streets for $1,500 with a box of ammunition. You can see the return on investment.” Despite the inflated price, people who use guns often see them as a necessary investment, police say. There are no major trends in the types of handguns used in Ottawa — whatever is available is usually the driving factor in what is bought — but cheaper knockoffs of guns that are referenced in pop culture can become popular, Bridgeman said. “If tomorrow, 50 Cent has that gun in his waistband when he promotes a video or a movie, we’ll see a trend in the rise for that gun,” said Bridgeman. Police say guns are easily available on the black market once connections are made. Benson said he dealt with a recent case in which an undercover officer was sent to buy a gun after receiving information about an alleged trafficker. “The commitment was done on basically the first meeting with an undercover police officer. That’s a stranger meeting a stranger, and they agreed to do a firearms transaction,” he said, refusing to give further details because the case is before the courts. Police say socio-economic factors play a role in today’s gun culture, and Bridgeman is concerned about the indoctrination of young people into a culture where guns are popular not just for criminality, but also for image. Handguns have reached the point where some people see them as fashion accessories, Bridgeman said. “We’ve taken guns off young children who didn’t know why they had the gun or why they wanted it, they just thought it’s gonna be cool to have a gun,” Bridgeman said. “I don’t wake up as a 12-year-old one day and say I’m gonna go get myself … crack and start slinging it on the street corner. That’s learned. It’s learned through many different means. “If other folks in my neighbourhood are involved in that and they held themselves out to be my role models, then maybe I’m gonna subscribe to that. And when I’m inundated with messages every day from my peers, from the folks I look up to as role models, from the media, it’s just a matter of time.” People already involved in that lifestyle provide a steady stream of work to officers trying to clear illegal guns from the streets. In January, police investigated a 28-year-old man believed to be an associate of the Blood street gang after receiving a tip that a locker at an indoor storage facility on Queensview Drive contained a .45 calibre handgun, a shotgun and a .22 calibre rifle. The guns were being stored along with thousands of dollars believed to be the proceeds of illegal drug sales, the tipster told police. After probing further, police executed a search warrant and seized a bag of guns, including several handguns, a sawed-off shotgun and about $3,000 in cash. One of the handguns — its serial number was removed but recovered by police — was traced to an alleged firearms trafficker in Alberta. The alleged gang associate in Ottawa was charged, but the charges were withdrawn after prosecutors couldn’t prove who had accessed the locker. The recent case against Osman was successful, however. His lawyer and the Crown reached a joint recommendation on his sentence: Three years in prison, minus a two-for-one credit on time served since his arrest on April 1. He also forfeited the cash. Osman, wearing an orange vest over a black T-shirt, showed no emotion during the brief court appearance and declined to address the court when given the opportunity. Agreeing with the proposed sentence, the judge said Osman had a “growing criminal record which contains several other incidents of violence,” including robbery in 2006 and resisting arrest in 2007. He was under two firearms and ammunition prohibitions when the gun was found. The weapon was not registered in Canada and was not on file as stolen, the court heard. Several other firearms-related offences Osman faced were withdrawn after he pleaded guilty to possession. Related charges against his girlfriend have also been withdrawn. She is now in Toronto, the court heard, and is pregnant with their child, due this year.

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