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Toronto police are seeking to hold a convicted firearms trafficker responsible for a death allegedly caused by one of his smuggled guns, a novel use of a criminal negligence charge in Canada that has the potential of holding gun smugglers accountable for the deadly toll of their illicit wares.

On Wednesday, Toronto police announced a charge of criminal negligence causing death against Jeffrey Gilmour, a 44-year-old Toronto man who is serving a 3½-year sentence for firearms-trafficking offences.

Investigators allege that a revolver he bought in Florida two years ago fired the bullet that killed a 19-year-old Torontonian in December, 2019. Police believe the gunshot was accidentally self-inflicted, but want criminal liability to extend to Mr. Gilmour.

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“For a guy like Jeffrey Gilmour, or anyone else who gets caught, if those smuggled guns are being used for homicides or robberies or whatever else we can link them to, they have to bear some responsibility for putting the gun in the hands of criminals who will use them for those purposes,” said Detective Sergeant Robert DiDanieli, head of the Toronto Police Firearms Enforcement Unit.

The idea is similar to holding fentanyl dealers responsible for fentanyl deaths or bartenders responsible for patrons who drive impaired.

“This will be a challenging, but not impossible prosecution,” criminal lawyer Daniel Brown said. “Attempts to use negligence causing death charges when trafficking in weapons or drugs leads to someone’s death is not unheard of, but extremely rare. Similar attempts to charge drug traffickers under this section of the Criminal Code have been used in the past with varying degrees of success.”

Det. Sgt. DiDanieli has been toying with the idea for years, but says it took recent advances in tracing and cross-border co-operation to bring the notion to reality.

Mr. Gilmour first came to his attention in 2019, when an officer traced a seized crime gun to a purchase Mr. Gilmour had made at a Florida gun shop. When investigators checked his travel history, they found he’d crossed the border numerous times. Their counterparts in the U.S., meanwhile, reported that Mr. Gilmour had purchased a total of 42 guns in Florida.

Authorities flagged him for secondary screening should he cross the border again. Within days, he was pulled aside at an unspecified border crossing where agents found three guns in his car and officers later found another illegal gun at his apartment. He was charged for firearms trafficking in July, 2019, and pleaded guilty within weeks.

After his conviction, police continued seizing guns linked to his Florida purchases. In December, 2019, they responded to a sudden death in a vehicle at Dufferin Street and Finch Avenue West. Inside, they found the deceased 19-year-old and a revolver that led to Mr. Gilmour.

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In addition to criminal negligence causing death, police laid nine other new charges for firearms trafficking.

Gun crime in Toronto and other Canadian cities has spiked in recent years. In 2020, there were 462 shootings on Toronto streets killing 44 people, down slightly from a record-high 492 shootings the year before that took 39 lives.

Around five years ago, investigators found that roughly 50 per cent of the seized crime guns they could trace were coming from cross-border smuggling. Today, that share for seized handguns has jumped to around 90 per cent, Det. Sgt. DiDanieli said.

And though cross-border traffic has slowed considerably during the pandemic, Toronto police gun seizures didn’t dip substantially from last year. Det. Sgt. DiDanieli hopes a new approach to prosecuting smugglers could deter future traffickers.

“We have a couple more cases where we could lay this charge,” he said, “we just need a couple things to fall our way.”

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