The arrest of an RCMP ballistics technician on charges of possessing illegal assault rifles is forcing the Mounties to check their firearms labs across the country to make sure no guns are missing.
The technician, Stacey D. Cherwonak, 40, has been suspended pending the outcome of his trial on 15 weapons charges, including possessing a version of the U.S. Army's M-16 and a Chinese model of an AK-47.
He is also charged with building a Sten submachine gun from parts.
The charges are "totally unrelated to Mr. Cherwonak's work" as a firearms technician at the ballistics lab in Ottawa, Sergeant Nathalie Deschênes, an RCMP spokeswoman, said yesterday.
All the guns with which he was working at the lab have been accounted for, she said.
Nevertheless, the arrest has prompted investigations at the RCMP's other ballistic labs in Halifax, Regina and Vancouver to make sure no weapons are missing from evidence vaults there, Sgt. Deschênes said.
The ballistic labs in Ottawa and the three regional centres are part of the same administrative unit and firearms are sometimes sent back and forth among locations.
The Ottawa lab alone has more than 8,700 firearms in its inventory.
This repository is used like a "reference library" to help investigators identify types of weapons used in crimes, Sgt. Deschênes said.
The terms of Mr. Cherwonak's bail prohibit him from going near RCMP headquarters in Ottawa.
Mr. Cherwonak is a civilian employee of the RCMP. His work includes microscopic examinations of bullets recovered at crime scenes to find matches with particular weapons.
He was arrested by the Ottawa city police last year. He has not yet entered a plea in court.
Reached at his home yesterday, Mr. Cherwonak declined to discuss his case.
He has identified himself in posts on the Internet as a sports shooter and an opponent of gun-control measures that the Liberal government proposed in 2005.
Ottawa police accuse Mr. Cherwonak of possessing banned weapons and parts, including a Second World War vintage Sten Mark II submachine gun, a Norinco Mak-90 assault rifle, a Colt Sporter rifle, a silencer, and ammunition magazines.
Mr. Cherwonak is also charged with smuggling the Norinco into Canada and with trying to file the serial number off the weapon.