Judge jails B.C. man who says he was abducted, forced to buy guns for gangsters

·5 min read
A handgun is displayed by a firearm retailer in this file image. Straw purchasers are people who legally buy weapons for others. (CBC - image credit)
A handgun is displayed by a firearm retailer in this file image. Straw purchasers are people who legally buy weapons for others. (CBC - image credit)

A Coquitlam, B.C., man who was sent to jail for being a "straw purchaser" of guns for Lower Mainland criminals earlier this year told investigators he was abducted and forced into buying the weapons.

B.C.'s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit announced Ashton Dickinson's sentencing in March, but the exact details of the case have never been published.

The CBC obtained an audio recording of the provincial court judge's ruling this week — to highlight the way police say legitimately purchased guns are making their way into the hands of gangsters.

The case details both the way people without criminal records are being used to buy weapons for people who do, and the plight of a troubled reservist who claimed he didn't know where to turn when he was threatened.

"The accused testified that he'd been abducted by a group of people who forced him to do things that he didn't want to do and he didn't know how to get out of it," Judge Shehni Dossa said as she detailed the circumstances of the case.

"He realizes that he could have gone to the police. He could have said 'no.' But that would have serious consequences to him and to those around him that he cared about, so he went along with what they asked."

'An incredible amount of duress'

Dickinson was sentenced to three years and handed a 10-year weapons prohibition in February after pleading guilty to one count of transferring restricted handguns — weapons trafficking — and possession of a loaded, prohibited firearm.

Police have repeatedly pointed to so-called "straw purchasers" as a source for the weapons that are fuelling the Lower Mainland gang wars — culminating in brazen daytime shootings like the one that claimed Karman Grewal's life at Vancouver's airport on Sunday.

An officer from the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C (CFSEU) is pictured during a press conference in B.C. The unit has applauded the prosecution of so called 'straw' gun purchasers.
An officer from the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C (CFSEU) is pictured during a press conference in B.C. The unit has applauded the prosecution of so called 'straw' gun purchasers.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

Dickinson had no criminal record when police were called to his residence on Valentine's Day 2019 in response to a report of a domestic assault.

His former girlfriend claimed he had tried to shoot himself in the head, but the weapon misfired. Dickinson dropped the gun, fled the house and was later located by police, turning himself in.

Police then searched his house and found long guns, ammunition, a ballistic vest, and ammunition for a variety of firearms investigators estimated would have cost $30,000.

According to Dossa's ruling, Dickinson gave a series of detailed statements to police in which he admitted to acting as a straw purchaser, buying the guns over a period of eight months, starting in August 2018.

He gained experience with weapons and got a purchase and acquisition licence after serving with the Royal Scottish Regiment in Edmonton, which is why he was able to buy guns.

He claimed his abductors drove him to various gun stores and ordered him to buy the firearms.

Dickinson had a total of 41 weapons registered to his name at the time of his arrest. He told police he had intended to shoot himself with one of them.

"Regarding the transfer of restricted firearms, he stated that he was under an incredible amount of duress and fearful of the repercussions if he did not do as he was told," Dossa said.

"There are now 40 handguns which have been transferred to persons who are not registered ... which creates a greater risk of harm, injury and death in the community."

'You've entered a guilty plea. You understand that?'

Before pleading guilty, Dickinson attempted to argue he had been under duress at the time of the crimes. He changed his plea to guilty after the judge rejected that argument.

His lawyer said the accused was still upset about the way he had been treated by the justice system.

"I can understand the frustration and the explanation, but they're not defences because you've entered a guilty plea. You understand that?" Dossa told him before giving her decision.

Guns are shown in this file photo from a weapons seizure in 2018. Police say a large number of illegal weapons on B.C. streets are purchased within Canada.
Guns are shown in this file photo from a weapons seizure in 2018. Police say a large number of illegal weapons on B.C. streets are purchased within Canada.(Christer Waara/CBC)

Dickinson is the second straw purchaser to be sentenced in B.C. courts in recent years.

In 2018, Christina May Stover was sentenced to three and a half years after entering guilty pleas to four counts of trafficking in firearms — including three restricted semi-automatic handguns.

The 42-year-old security guard also pleaded guilty to breaching a bail condition that required her to turn in any remaining weapons — an impossibility, given the fact they were already out of her control.

A spokesperson for the CFSEU said a more recent investigation involving three unnamed individuals highlighted in a media release this winter is expected to be delivered for charge approval later this month.

In 2017, a task force on illegal firearms claimed that historically, most guns involved in crimes had been smuggled into Canada from the United States.

But in the three years prior to the issuing of the report, 60 per cent of crime guns came from within Canada.

Dossa pointed out that Dickinson was extremely remorseful and hoped to work in software design in the future.

He lost a number of jobs because of his bail conditions, which required him to disclose the criminal charges to a supervisor and to abide by a curfew.

The judge declined to order the taking of a DNA sample. But she said she had no choice but to send Dickinson to jail.

"The transfer of so many handguns is a serious offence," she said. "Regrettably, the police have not been able to locate any of the weapons."