A Coquitlam man has pleaded guilty to weapons trafficking after a two-year investigation revealed evidence he acted as a “straw purchaser,” funnelling legally purchased guns to buyers with criminal records.
Ashton Dickinson, 27, pled guilty to weapons trafficking and possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm in a Port Coquitlam court on Feb. 18 — each charge leading to three years in prison and a 10-year ban on possessing a firearm.
But 39 of the weapons bought under his name remain at large as police note an uptick in cases of legal firearms owners funnelling weapons to criminals.
Police describe straw purchasers as individuals with legal permits to buy firearms, who are then recruited to funnel legal weapons to people unable to buy guns because of a firearms ban or criminal record.
“The firearms, after initially acquired legally, are trafficked, sold in criminal markets and used in shootings,” wrote Sgt. Brenda Winpenny of B.C.’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU-BC) in a press release.
There have been a number of shootings across the Lower Mainland in recent months, including a drive-by shooting on Burke Mountain, a targeted shooting at both a house and gym in Port Coquitlam, and a shooting in the lobby of a Burquitlam condo that provoked a massive police response after a woman was found bleeding in the lobby.
After the Burquitlam shooting in January, the Tri-City News requested data from Coquitlam RCMP on the rise in gun crime across the region, however, a spokesperson for the detachment said it does not keep such records and does “not have the resources” to manually call up that information.
At the time, spokesperson Const. Deanna Law did confirm “we have seen more shootings in the past month” than is normal for Coquitlam.
FLUKE ARREST NETS EVIDENCE OF WEAPONS TRAFFICKING
The investigation began Feb. 14, 2019, when Coquitlam RCMP arrested Dickinson at his home on the 1300 block of Soball Street on an unrelated matter. At the time, police found a loaded handgun, as well as receipts and registrations showing ownership of 39 firearms, ammunition and a bullet-proof vest.
The investigation was then passed to CFSEU-BC, the province's anti-gang unit, and the RCMP-led National Weapons Enforcement Support Team, who found the 39 missing guns — none of which had been reported to police as lost or stolen — had been bought between April 2018 and November 2018.
Over the last year, investigators have noticed an increase in domestic straw purchasers, propping up “the distribution of legal firearms for a criminal purpose” with “these guns potentially ending up in the hands of those people who pose the greatest risks to public safety,” wrote CFSEU-BC’s Sgt. Winpenny in a press release.
It’s not clear the calibre of the 39 missing weapons, nor whether their sale involved organized crime. A publication ban on Dickinson’s Feb. 18 court appearance restricts media from reporting additional details of circumstances around the case, and Sgt. Winpenny of B.C.'s anti-gang unit did not return calls from the Tri-City News at the time of publication.
B.C.’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit said it's still trying to track down the 39 outstanding firearms.