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Surrey mayor wants tougher sentences for having illegal guns

Concerned by gun crimes in her city and across the country, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has asked Ottawa to impose tougher sentences for illegal gun possession and to boost programs aimed at stemming the flow of illegal guns from the United States into Canada.

"I am requesting the Federal Government toughen sentences and increase mandatory sentences for the illegal possession of a firearm," Ms. Watts wrote in a January 20 letter to federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

Ms. Watts also called for tougher sentencing for repeat drug offenders. "I am also advocating for new provisions which stipulate that prior drug convictions be an aggravating factor resulting in more severe mandatory sentences."

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In the letter, which was also sent to federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and B.C. Attorney-General Shirley Bond, Ms. Watts also calls on the federal government to step up co-ordination with U.S. authorities on the guns issue.

"We know the vast majority of guns enter the country through land border ports, and Surrey has the second-largest border crossing in Canada," Ms. Watts wrote. "Increasing efforts to prevent gun smuggling will help reduce death, injury and criminal activity."

Gun and gang violence is an ongoing issue in the Lower Mainland, with a recent killing putting the issue once again into the spotlight.

Sandip Duhre, 36, of Surrey was shot in a Vancouver hotel restaurant on January 17, in Vancouver's first homicide of 2012. Police say it was a targeted, gang-related hit and are investigating whether a Surrey shooting two days later that left one man dead and another wounded is related.

"There has to be more severe punishment for the possession of firearms," Ms. Watts said in a recent interview. "If someone is in possession of illegal firearms, it's going to be used for a crime somewhere down the road.

"So there has to be a deterrent for the possession of those illegal firearms."

Mandatory sentences are a controversial law-enforcement tactic, with some research suggesting they do not result in fewer crimes or serve as a deterrent.

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In 2010, 184 firearms – including 109 handguns – were seized in the Pacific Region, including Surrey, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. The next-highest tally was in the southern Ontario region, where 171 guns were seized.

Most of the firearms seized by the agency come from the United States and most of the handguns are seized as a result of U.S. travelers neglecting to declare their personal firearms, an agency spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

"CBSA's focus is on the prevention of illegal firearms and improving the collection, analysis and sharing of intelligence and other information related to firearms," the spokeswoman said. "We work closely with other law-enforcement agencies, as well as with international partners to develop detailed analysis of intelligence and enforcement actions, in order to develop a better understanding of the nature of firearms trafficking."

Ms. Watts was first elected as mayor in 2005 after serving nine years on council and was elected for a third term last year.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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