A multi-jurisdictional investigation into an attempted gun smuggling incident at the Fort Erie, Ont. border crossing has led Toronto police to “effectively dismantle a firearm importation ring.”

The investigation, dubbed Project Belair, stems from an incident at the Peace Bridge on Oct. 31.

As first reported by CTV News Toronto, officers with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) discovered 25 handguns inside the gas tank of a rented Nissan Rouge that attempted to cross the border.

“These 25 handguns, as you can imagine, were so well concealed it was only through exhaustive efforts that they were eventually located in the gas tank and seized,” Acting Insp. Don Belanger said.

“The handguns were actually in the gas tank and immersed in gasoline. Each gun had been individually packaged in plastic, I guess in an effort to protect them from the gasoline.”

The female driver, the lone occupant of the vehicle, was taken into custody.

The next day, police executed 13 search warrants in Toronto, Brampton and Ajax.

As part of those searches, officers allegedly yielded:

  • 5 additional handguns from those seized at the Peace Bridge
  • 16 prohibited, over-capacity magazines
  • 136 rounds of various calibers of ammunition
  • 166 grams of powered cocaine
  • 111 grams of crack cocaine
  • 13 kilograms of marijuana
  • • $45,000 in cash

Though recreational cannabis came legal in Canada last month, the quantity seized well exceeds legal amounts, Belanger noted.

Three suspects, identified as 52-year-old Alan Cunningham, of Brampton, 41-year-old William Datta, of Ajax, and 52-year-old Colin Levy, of Brampton, have all been charged with a slew of gun and drug trafficking offences.

The woman alleged to be involved in the Peace Bridge incident, identified as 50-year-old Rima Mansour, of Toronto, is facing 25 counts of importing illegal firearms, among other charges.

Mansour had no connection to police prior to this incident.

“I think we’ve effectively dismantled one firearm importation ring, I’m confident in that,” Belanger said.

“That always has a positive impact on community safety. Every one of these guns, there’s one purpose for it, and they’re going to be sold to the criminal element in Toronto and the GTA, anytime we can prevent that, especially to this degree, it’s a great day for us.”

While investigators are in the process of tracing the origins of the firearms – as all but one still contain a serial number – police believe they came from the United States, particularly Florida and Georgia.

“What we’re alleging is that lawful gun owners in the states are purchasing handguns for as much as $300 to $500, having them smuggled across the border and then selling them here,” Belanger said.

“They could sell between $2,000 and $5,000 on the streets of Toronto.”

The total street value of the 30 guns seized exceeds $100,000.

But Belanger doesn’t believe the operation is as sophisticated as it may seem.

“I can only speculate it was their first time (smuggling),” Belanger said.

“What I can tell you is that each gun was individually packaged and it appeared there was an attempt to vacuum-seal them. Every one of these guns ended up doused in gasoline, so they did a poor job of concealing them.”

The mechanic hired by the CBSA to help dismantle the gas tank told CTV News Toronto that officers were able to see the guns through x-ray equipment.

When asked whether police knew whether they knew the destination of the guns, or whether the four accused were linked to known gangs, Belanger said that part of the investigation was ongoing.

“It’s interesting when you see the ages of the accused. These aren’t young people, these are people in their 40s and 50s who are funneling guns to criminal street gangs,” Belanger said.

The investigation was a collaborative effort and was done in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the CBSA.

“Are we seeing that there are more and more guns beamed in? I think that is the case,” Deputy Chief James Ramer said at the news conference Wednesday.

“We’re seeing more and more guns being used in the city. There’s more and more demand for them.”