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Canada has zero-tolerance gun policy at U.S. border

  • Article by: David Zucchino
  • Los Angeles Times
  • February 3, 2014 - 7:06 PM

Louis DiNatale didn’t intend to enter Canada when he and his wife wound up on a bridge from New York state to Ontario province in September, misdirected by an unreliable GPS.

What began as an American couple’s getaway to Vermont quickly turned into a lesson on the stark difference between the U.S. and Canada when it comes to gun laws.

DiNatale, whose request to turn around and cross back into the U.S. was denied, then made another mistake. When a border official asked if he had any weapons, he said no.

Then the questions started about guns. A border agent asked whether he owned any.

“Yes,” DiNatale said.

“Why?” an agent asked.

“I told him I was retired military, I had respect for weapons, and I had a concealed carry license to do so,” DiNatale said.

He had forgotten he had stowed his handgun in the center console days earlier.

A search turned up the gun and DiNatale was handcuffed and questioned by Canadian border officers for allegedly trying to smuggle a loaded handgun into the country — and lying about it. He spent four days in a Canadian jail.

Cautionary tale for Americans

DiNatale’s predicament is a cautionary tale for American gun owners: Canada takes gun control more seriously than the United States. Over the past three years, almost 1,400 firearms were confiscated at Canadian entry points, most of them personal guns belonging to U.S. citizens.

His lawyer, Bruce Engel, says Canada overreacted to DiNatale’s mistake and is using his case to send a message.

“They’re trying to make a general blanket statement to American citizens: Don’t mess with our borders,” Engel said.

DiNatale, a former Army legal expert who is now a paralegal in Kentucky, faces three years in jail if convicted; a court date is scheduled for June.

“They could have done their homework and looked at his background and seen he’s a professional,” Engel said. “They could have accepted the word of his wife and released him on his own recognizance.”

Instead, Engel said, he was told by a prosecutor at DiNatale’s bail hearing: “Bruce, when it comes to guns, it’s kind of a zero-tolerance policy.”

U.S. gun license doesn’t help

For Americans accustomed to carrying guns in the U.S., the situation changes radically at the border. The no-tolerance attitude toward guns is similar to that of airport security in the U.S. It made no difference that DiNatale’s gun is legally licensed in the U.S., or that he has a concealed-carry permit.

Under Canadian law, Americans who want to bring up to three guns across the border must first fill out a form and pay a $25 fee in Canadian dollars. The weapons must be declared at the border post; the form serves as a 60-day gun permit in Canada.

“If you do not declare all firearms or weapons, we will seize them and you may face criminal charges,” the Canada Border Services Agency warns on its website.

The U.S. embassy in Ottawa warns U.S. citizens who attempt to enter Canada with guns: “Weapons are strictly controlled.” The warning adds: “Canadian law requires that officials seize firearms and weapons … from those who deny having them in their possession. Seized firearms and weapons are never returned.”

© 2014 Star Tribune