Eight arrests, 107 charges: Project Harden

A handgun with is among some of the articles shown May 28, 2015 following a multi-police force investigation called Project Harden. The investigation culminated May 27, 2015 with the arrests of eight people. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston, File)

LONG SAULT – A five month investigation has ended with the arrests of eight people facing a combined total of 107 charges.

Representatives from various police forces involved in Project Harden, which zeroed in on trafficking of handguns in Eastern Ontario, held a news conference Thursday morning in Long Sault to show off some of what they seized.

On Wednesday, multiple police forces executed six search warrants in Cornwall, South Glengarry, Akwesasne, Ottawa and Longueuil, Que.

Officers recovered eight handguns, a silencer, an AK-47 assault rifle, high capacity magazines, ammunition, 3.5 kilograms of cocaine, marijuana and roughly $100,000 in cash.

“The operators of a Cornwall business, known as Cedar’s On Wheels, were arrested and charged in relation to this investigation. Getting guns off the streets is a priority…every illegal firearm removed from our streets and out of the hands of criminals make our communities much safer,” O.P.P. Superintendent Paul Beesley said.

Charged are:

  • Pierre Nassif, 39, South Glengarry
  • Devin Lazore, 21, Akwesasne
  • Paul Nassifm 36, Cornwall
  • Masaed Rashed, 27, Ottawa
  • Hussein Yassin, 40, Cornwall
  • Sean Carl, 25, Cornwall
  • Francois Billard, 29, Cornwall
  • Sonia Bernier, 32, Saint Hubert, Que.

Billard, Carl and Yassin were released with a promise to appear in court in Cornwall next month. The rest were held in custody pending a court appearance today (Thursday).

Cornwall police Deputy Chief Danny Aikman says, for their part, Emergency Response Team members searched a home at 104 Park Avenue and arrested Billard.

“As I stand here, this investigation is not complete but will be ongoing and we look forward to future successes in regards to making our city streets safer,” Aikman said. The deputy chief says the location of the illegal activity – across the street from the Cornwall police station – was “bold…but certainly wasn’t missed.”

O.P.P. Superintendent Paul Beesley says the guns are being traced though a ballistics database to see if they’re involved in other unsolved crimes. But, so far, he says there’s no evidence to suggest the guns have been used in shootings. “Most of these firearms they have traced so far originate from legal gun markets in the United States, so they were trafficked to Canada and ended up in Cornwall,” Beesley said.

The superintendent was asked why Cedar’s On Wheels was stripped of all its contents. “One of the strategies for dealing with organized crime is a to have a robust proceeds of crime enforcement action. You often hear the adage, follow the money. Well, in this case, we emptied the business. They were all offense-related property. There was a court order in place to take the assets of the business,” Beesley told Cornwall Newswatch.

“The business was used as a place where these things (guns) were trafficked,” Beesley added but declined to get into specifics as it’s part of evidence in the investigation.

CBSA spokesman Jeff Davidson says their organization provided intelligence and conducted surveillance. None of the guns seized in Project Harden were seized at Cornwall’s port of entry. Davidson doesn’t believe the developments from Project Harden will affect border travel for the general public where 3,000 travellers a day go through the port.

Akwesasne police Chief Jerry Swamp says they also provided intelligence and surveillance. Swamp says his officers were involved in a search warrant on Cornwall Island where weapons and cocaine was seized. “What was troubling for the Mohawk police was a loaded handgun was located within the residence…that’s a concern for all of us,” Swamp said.

Ottawa police spokeswoman Joan McKenna says the nation’s capital has had a “spike in gun violence” from street gangs, the drug trade, and included two gun-related murders. McKenna says the search at an Ottawa home “confirms the Ottawa connection for cocaine trafficking and (the) reality that some or all of…the guns…may have been destined for Ottawa,” she said.

Superintendent Beesley tells Cornwall Newswatch the accused are at different levels of the hierarchy of the criminal enterprise from “employees of the organization” to ring leaders.

Beesley says, once the case is complete, the weapons will be taken to a scrap metal company to be destroyed.

Click on a photo below to open a gallery of photographs of the weapons, drugs, body armour, rifles and more seized during Project Harden.

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