By Kim Bolan/special to the Langley Advance
Langley resident Christina Stover obtained a firearms acquisition licence just last year, which entitled her to buy weapons at any gun store in Canada.
Within a matter of months, the 40-year-old former security guard had legally purchased 19 firearms.
Then, on March 11, police allege Stover, who had no prior criminal record, delivered a cache of guns to two men at their rented Surrey home on 192nd Street.
All three were arrested the same day.
Ridge Meadows Supt. David Fleugel said the “investigation has resulted in police seizing a number of firearms that were being stored illegally, and may have been destined for a criminal element in a number of communities.”
Police seized nine firearms, including handguns, rifles and shotguns, he said.
Sources confirm that several firearms bought by Stover since last year have not been located. The investigation continues.
Police see a disturbing shift in where B.C. criminals are getting their guns.
B.C. gangsters used to get most of their guns from sources in the U.S. who smuggled them across the border. They now obtain most of their illicit firearms within Canada, either by stealing them from legal owners or using straw purchasers who have licences to buy them.
According to the most recent data available from the RCMP’s National Weapons Enforcement Support Team, 61 per cent of crime guns in the province were domestically sourced.
“And the balance, about 39 per cent, were believed to be smuggled from the United States or elsewhere. The source was not domestic,” said Insp. Chris McBryan, the officer in charge of NWEST’s western region.
NWEST worked with Ridge Meadows RCMP on the Stover investigation.
“NWEST is dedicated to providing assistance in combating the illegal distribution of firearms to organized crime,” McBryan said.
“This investigation is another example of how effective partnerships between NWEST and municipal policing services, like Ridge Meadows RCMP, counter the illegal movement of firearms within Canada.”
Stover appeared in Surrey Provincial Court Monday on eight charges of illegally transferring firearms and one of careless storage of a gun.
She was released on $1,500 bail. She must keep the peace and stay away from her co-accused as well as any store that sells guns.
Surrey roommates Gualter De Medeiros, 54, and Warren Svensrud, 50, have also been released on bail.
De Medeiros, who’s believed to have gang links, is charged with six counts of possession of a firearm knowing there was no licence, two counts of possession of a restricted or prohibited firearm with ammunition and one of careless storage of a gun.
Svensrud is charged with two counts of possessing a firearm without a licence and one of careless storage.
Surrey has been plagued by rampant gun violence linked to the drug trade. Already in 2016 there have been 32 shootings, which have resulted in one murder, several injuries and property damage — including a bullet hole in the side of an RCMP community office.
Mounties seized 13 firearms in Surrey just last week.
Staff Sgt. Lindsey Houghton of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit said his agency worked on several cases targeting smugglers bringing guns into Canada from the U.S. between 2010 and 2014.
In February, Tyler Ryan Cuff was sentenced in a Surrey courtroom to 42 months in prison for bringing firearms he purchased at Washington State guns shows into B.C.
At least 13 of the firearms he bought have been recovered at crime scenes in Canada.
Cuff was arrested after a CFSEU investigation in August 2014, months before Washington expanded background checks to include private sales of firearms, which are common at gun shows.
And in May 2015, Oregon also toughened gun laws by making background checks mandatory for all private sales, including online purchases.
Houghton said the changes in U.S. law plus enforcement action on both sides of the border have led to the change in how B.C. criminals obtain their firepower.
“Any of these deterrents will result in the criminals changing their behaviour and seeking out firearms in a different way,” Houghton said.
“Now it’s the overwhelming majority of firearms that make their way into the hands of people using them illegally come from legal sources — a legitimate law-abiding gun owner doing everything they can and their house gets broken into and their gun gets stolen.”
Houghton said “these criminals are like water: they’ll find the path of least resistance to get to their end goal.”
So police are changing their tactics, too.
CFSEU is working with Surrey RCMP and NWEST on a new “Safe City” project where they visit the owners of restricted and prohibited firearms whose registrations have expired.
If the owner no longer wants their firearm, police take it. If they want to keep it, they must get their paperwork in order.
“The objective of this project is to educate firearms owners on the current laws surrounding firearms, as some may not even realize that they are non-compliant,” Surrey RCMP Asst. Com. Bill Fordy said. “Our aim is to reduce the number of illegally owned and unregistered firearms in Surrey, as well as enhance public and police officer safety.”
McBryan, of NWEST, said the shift to domestically sourced crime guns is happening across Canada.
“The numbers aren’t exactly the same. The idea that most crime guns are domestically sourced now is consistent,” he said.
Conservative Surrey MP and former mayor Dianne Watts said she has heard from police that most criminals are now getting their firearms on this side of the border.
“If we go back a little bit in history, there was a huge influx of weapons coming up from the United States and that was the norm for quite a period of time,” said Watts, who represents South Surrey-White Rock.
“Because of the crackdown on that front, it morphs into something else. So now you have somebody who is inconspicuous and goes and purchases legitimately these guns and then sells them to people to undertake criminal activity. There has got to be a major lens put on that.”
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