Arms dealer John St. Amour says a March 13 police raid on his
business imperiled the lives of him, his wife and employees.
"They were ready to shoot us," St. Amour says of the about 40
heavily-armed police who raided his Marstar Trading International
business on Pleasant Corners Road.
St. Amour says his firm has followed the letter of the law
since it was established ten years ago. He says he still does not
know what the police were looking for. A search warrant obtained
by Canada Customs alleges that Marstar made a false statement to
obtain an export permit. But St. Amour says he has done nothing
wrong and has cooperated with authorities.
He scoffs at media reports that suggest that 600 guns Marstar
sold to a Norwegian arms trader disappeared and were subsequently
smuggled to third parties as part of an illegal international arms
People who might think he sells arms to mercenaries,
terrorists and private armies "have been watching too many movies,"
St. Amour describes his operation as a law-abiding, up-front
mail-order business that sells military surplus rifles and
handguns. He calls the military arms "collector's items." The
bulk of the guns he sells are in the "deactivated" class, meaning
they are bought as decorative items, St. Amour says.
"Weapons don't just disappear. For every pound of gun of gun
we sell, there is a pound of paperwork. There is a pound of
paperwork. There is a paper trail that a blind man can follow at
night," he states.
The police action was excessive and subsequent media coverage
has made his business a target of thieves, St. Amour says.
"Somebody should be held accountable. There certainly must be
some violation of rights here. Nobody can make me believe that
police should hold people at gunpoint and make threats, trash the
place and refuse to say why they are doing this," St. Amour says.
"I worked in Easter European countries before the fall of
Communist governments and I've never seen anything like this. I
want to know why is this happening in Canada? I have some serious
questions. What kind of country are we living in? Somebody has to
be held accountable for this type of excessive action," he states.
"We have no secrets. Our company enjoys one of the best
reputations in the world. For ten years we have been a fully-
licensed, fully-documented business that has been fully supported
by all levels of government. We are audited by the O.P.P.. They
didn't need machine guns and a SWAT team to look at my files. I
kept saying, "Tell me what you want; I'll give it to you." They
said it was none of my business. They refused to identify
themselves and said that I could be arrested because my questions
were interfering with their investigation. They still haven't told
what they were looking for," he declares.
St. Amour says that he, his wife and two employees were
working inside Marstar's building when the raid began.
Accompanied by an Ontario Provincial Police helicopter,
officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada Customs and
the O.P.P SWAT team descended on the business at 1:30 p.m. and left
at 8:15 p.m.
Some of the officers were armed with submachine guns and
grenades. The unit had earlier arrived at the Hawkesbury O.P.P.
detachment. "One of the staff sergeants there said, "Why don't you
just go ring the doorbell?" Local O.P.P. officers come here all
the time. They don't seem threatened when they come here St. Amour
"The local O.P.P. officer rang, I opened the door and he said
there were a whole bunch more outside. They were ready for
anything. They had flash and stun grenades, battering rams,
submachine guns, shotguns, handguns. The O.P.P. SWAT team and the
RCMP were to "secure" the premises and perimeters," St. Amour
When the police saw the St. Amours' two dogs, they were told,
"Control them or they're gone," he says.
A Revenue Canada spokesman was quoted in published reports as
saying that the size of the raid was necessary to ensure the safety
of police personnel. "Thirty five to 40 heavily armed police with
a helicopter, and there were four of us here. I think it was
adequate," St. Amour says dryly.
At gunpoint, St. Amour was ordered to take the police to the
office upstairs, where his wife was surrounded by four officers
armed with machine guns. "My two employees were lined up against
a wall and held at gunpoint. All these weapons are fully loaded,
fully cocked, with the safetys off. They were ready to shoot," St.
During the search, St. Amour says RCMP officers threatened him
with physical violence when he started photographing them. "Take
our picture and we'll get you," an RCMP officer warned, says St.
While the search warrant bore the name of a Customs Canada
official, most of the officers bore no pieces of identification.
Some were dressed in plain clothes. "They refused to identify
themselves. They threatened to arrest me for asking questions.
"We're the RCMP, we don't have to explain anything. We don't need
a warrant." They threatened me with arrest when I said I wanted to
call my lawyer. I called my lawyer anyway. My lawyer said, "Ask
them what they want and give it to them." I wanted to but they
wouldn't tell me what they wanted."
"Once the unit had "secured" the building, with the helicopter
patrolling the property, they were to "take" the house," St. Amour
"I told them I would open the door -- you don't have to break
it down." Three SWAT team members followed St. Amour as he went
from the building to the house. "These guys were wearing dark
glasses. The glasses would protect them if they had to use the
flash grenades which are meant to blind people temporarily. The
yard is full of ice and snow, and these guys are walking through my
garage with submachine guns aimed at my back. This was a very
dangerous procedure. If one of them had slipped I could have been
shot," says St. Amour.
"They trashed the place," St. Amour said Monday, presenting
photos of his ransacked office and home. "They even went through
our bedroom. It took us an hour to clean up before we could go to
bed that night."
Police seized files computer diskettes, phone bills and faxes
from the office and several personal effects from his home.
Reading through a list of receipts for confiscated items, he notes
a phone list, 50 travel pictures, a National Geographic map of
Egypt, airline tags and stamps from Eastern European countries,
papers written in foreign languages, and "pictures of weapons in
possible foreign locations."
Median coverage has prompted calls o support from friends but
St. Amour notes he doesn't need the notoriety. "It endangers our
lives. The Ottawa Sum published a picture of our house and our
address. That is an invitation to thieves. Three Canadian dealers
have been killed and one has been wounded during recent robberies,"
After reading Norwegian and Ottawa newspaper reports, St.
Amour says he suspects the raid was connected to arms he sent to
Norway in April, 1991. St. Amour sent a "very large" shipment of
World War I and World War II rifles and 1950 handguns to Tom
Holgar, owner of WGG of Bergen, Norway. Holgar committed suicide
18 months ago. "Tom's suicide was related to a tragic personal
family matter, it had nothing to do with the business," St. Amour
"That's a crock," he says of speculation that WBG, which
stands for wince, brandy and guns, was involved in illicit arms
trading. "Tom set up his business in a former nuclear fallout
shelter that was rented from the Norwegian ministry of defence,"
St. Amour says.
Producing a permit for the shipment, he recalls a discrepancy
in the paperwork was detected before the guns left Mirabel Airport.
The arms were "collectors-orientated stuff," says St. Amour. The
cargo included World War II rifles made in Canada, Russia, Belgium,
Japan, Italy and Yugoslavia, as well as some World War I rifle.
"Because it was such a large shipment, we redid the paperwork at
Mirabel under the supervision of Customs officers. Tom was there.
Some cases had been counted twice. So we sorted out the paperwork
with the customs people," St. Amour says.
This article by Richard Mahoney was a front page story in the March
22, 1995 issue of Vankleek Hill's paper _The_Review_. The editor
has given permission for the electronic distribution of the
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