Canada and U.S. agree to trace guns intercepted at border

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By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada and the United States have agreed to trace guns that are intercepted at the border, a move meant to enhance efforts to stop the smuggling of handguns to the north from the world's biggest private firearm market, officials from both countries said on Friday.

Canada's Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said they signed four agreements in Ottawa aimed at addressing cross-border crime, including one featuring increased tracing of firearms.

"Canada and the United States have agreed to strengthen the bilateral cooperation to reduce gun violence," Mendicino said. "It means making even more progress on the tracing of illegal guns so that we can hold those criminals and organized criminal networks to account."

Canada's Border Services Agency (CBSA) will cooperate with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to trace guns seized at the border to see who purchased them and whether they were previously used in crimes.

Last year, some 1,101 firearms were seized at the border, a government source not authorized to speak on the record said. That's broadly in line with 2021, when 1,110 were confiscated, according to CBSA figures.

The United States traces guns by requiring firearm dealers to record the serial numbers of the guns they sell and who purchased them. Tracing provides key intelligence to the ATF, which can then investigate and prosecute buyers of firearms that are subsequently sold illegally or smuggled.

"Data and information sharing are powerful tools in the fight against gun violence," said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was also present.

Previously, gun tracing in Canada has been inconsistent. Canada traced only 6-10% of guns involved in crimes, according to 2019 data from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), a federal agency.

Ontario, Canada's most populous province, traces nearly all the handguns involved in crimes, and in 2021 more than 80% of those that were able to be traced were found to have come from the United States.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government introduced new legislation last year to address gun violence, including a freeze on handgun sales and a ban on sales of large-capacity magazines.

Mendicino, Mayorkas, Garland and Canada's Justice Minister David Lametti met on Friday as part of the so-called Cross Border Crime Forum.

They also agreed to further coordinate on issues such as human smuggling, money laundering, the use of cryptocurrency to fund illegal activities, and so-called ghost guns often made with 3D printers.

Garland also said they also discussed how to address the crisis in Haiti, and Mayorkas said he is working with Canada to find legal pathways for people fleeing violence in Haiti.

"It is vital that individuals seek legal pathways and do not take to the seas," Mayorkas said, where "we see too much loss of life."

(Reporting by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by Ismail Shakil; Editing by Aurora Ellis)