Swiss Arms in Canada: The Full Story
Update #2: With the amnesty now in force, the full RCMP report has been made available to the public. A freedom of information request was fulfilled on August 5th 2014. All 200+ pages can be downloaded here: http://tv-presspass.com/swiss-arms-classic-green-full-rcmp-report/
Update #1: This story was initially published in June 2013. Now, in February 2014 it seems that the Swiss Arms have been Reclassified
Many thanks to Steve Janes for helping me write this article. While I am not a SAN owner: he is, and one of the most passionate SAN owners I’ve ever met. A substantial part of the resources required to put this together came from him. We will address 3 main questions regarding the Swiss Arms Rifles in Canada:
1. Where are we now?
2. How did we get here?
3. Where are we going?
The answer to question one is pretty clear cut.
As of right now, all the Swiss Arms rifles under the various FRTs are non-restricted, except for those that are restricted by barrel length:
FRT # 129006 Swiss Arms Black Special Carbine
FRT # 119587 Swiss Arms Black Special
FRT # 119482 Swiss Arms Classic Green
FRT # 124216 Swiss Arms Classic Green Carbine
FRT # 124218 Swiss Arms Classic Green CQB
FRT # 119588 Swiss Arms Heavy Metal
FRT # 119485 Swiss Arms Red Devil
FRT # 119484 Swiss Arms Edition
Officially, the RCMP is not yet taking action. Speaking directly with the Senior Firearms Technologist he said: “The investigation is currently speculative.”
However that may change on June 30th.
I have received several emails from the Senior Firearms Technologist, concerning a review done by his office of 3 different SAN rifles. (serials ESF 9116, ESF74361, ESF73096)
I have attached the full results of his review, but the conclusion is:
“ESF 9116 appears to be a purpose built semi-automatic receiver, while the two other firearms, serial numbers ESF74361 and a Swiss Arms, Model Classic Green (stripped) receiver, serial number ESF73096 appear to have been converted into semi-automatic firearms from full automatic receivers.”
The fact that “control rifles” ESF74361 and ESF73096 contain converted auto parts is concerning. We do not currently know where these rifles came from. But this investigation has also led the RCMP labs to closely compare the Classic Green to the Sig 540 and Sig550 in their possession.
The most important outcome from this investigation is right here, and I quote: “The most generous interpretation of our research would be that all the firearms in the list are prohibited variant or modified versions of the SG 550 rifle or SG551 Carbine as found in the Criminal Code Regulations appended to CC PART III, Section 84 (1), PROHIBITED FIREARMS paragraph 83.”
We are presented with two challenges:
1. Some of the rifles entering Canada in the past 12 years appear to have been converted automatics.
2. The lineage of the Swiss Arms rifles is now in question. At this time the RCMP is looking for evidence to support that the rifles in our country are truly variants of the Sig 540 or actually variants of the Prohibited Sig 550.
This is a grave concern and I would encourage everyone to read through both of William Etter’s emails in this post.
The question How did we get here? is a trickier one to answer.
The timeline of these events are still in question.
The Origins of Rifle: ESF9116 (The serial number prefix ESF in all Canadian Swiss Arms rifles seems to be tied to the Akademikertag competitive shooters league)
From conversations with James Bachynsky, of Calgary Shooting Center:
By JR’s determination, the upper was a converted auto.
To the informed eye, they are obviously not the same as the two different SAN rifles I(SteveJanes) have had, and several others I have examined. JR felt these rifles were being illegally modified, re-serialized and then imported to Canada by CSC.
When ESF9116 came to JR, he claims he re-imbursed this person with a new rifle, and took possession of ESF9116. JR says he tried to speak with SAN about it, but that the CEO knew nothing about it.
At this point, he contacted the RCMP and started an investigation because according to him and his beliefs, the CSC was importing illegal weapons, and jeopardizing him, his property, and livelihood.
It’s worth noting that at this point that MD Charleton is the official distributor of SAN rifles in Canada. Neither the CSC nor TSE are stand-alone distributors.
On 28 March 2013, the directors of CSC were interviewed by NWEST who were investigating a complaint that had been lodged by an individual. The individual had made allegations that a rifle sold by CSC was in fact a converted automatic prohibited firearm and that CSC had been trafficking in these firearms. A picture of a firearm was produced, it was a Classic Green rifle serial number ESF9116. CSC confirmed that they had indeed sold the rifle pictured and told NWEST that all rifles that they had imported from Switzerland had been carefully selected and inspected and refurbished to meet the exact standards of those Classic Green rifles that had been sold for the past decade or so. It was agreed that CSC would provide a letter to this effect sent by SAN to verify these details. This letter was sent to CSC on 18 April 13. You can find that letter below.
The tentative conclusion of the Senior Firearms Technologist’s investigation:
From: William Etter [mailto:William.Etter@rcmp-
Sent: Friday,May 24,2013 12:56 PMThe technical inspection you requested to establish the legitimacy of the so called “spurious” copy of the SAN Swiss Arms Model Classic Green Rifle serial number ESF9116 is almost completed. It remains to ask you to supply a clear statement as to the lineage of the whole family of firearms listed below paragraph No 2.
It is incumbent upon you to conclusively support your statements that these firearms (contained in List 2) are variant or modified versions of the SG540 as has been maintained both by you and various Swiss Arms AG employees for the last 12 years. Also required is a definitive statement supported by factory drawings and official Swiss Arms AG signed documents that the firearms contained in List 2. are not variant or modified versions of the SG550 or SG551.
CASE HISTORY TO DATE
1. William Etter, Chief Firearms Technologist – Specialized Firearms Support Services Section, Firearms Investigative and Enforcement Services Directorate, requested an inspection for the purpose of a legal class determination as a result of a claim made by James Cox that the firearm being inspected Serial number ESF 9116 is an SG550 or PE90 rifle that was refinished to look like a Swiss Arms, Model Classic Green rifle and is a “prohibited” firearm being marketed under false pretenses as a “restricted” or “non restricted” firearm (depending upon the length of the rifle’s barrel).
2. The intensive research required to resolve the issue of whether or not there was a “spurious copy” of the Swiss Arms Classic Green Rifle imported by a business competitor, has cast doubt on the legal class of a group of rifles and carbines which may have been misrepresented to be members of the SIG540 family of firearms. All of the following firearms are strongly suspected to be variant or modified versions of the SG 550 rifle or SG551 carbine as found in the Criminal Code Regulations appended to CC PART III, Section 84, Part 1, PROHIBITED FIREARMS paragraph 83 (1). A list follows:
Para 2. – LIST
a) FRT # 129006 – Swiss Arms Black Special Carbine
b) FRT # 119587 – Swiss Arms Black Special
c) FRT # 119482 – Swiss Arms Classic Green
d) FRT # 124216 – Swiss Arms Classic Green Carbine
e) FRT # 124218 – Swiss Arms Classic Green CQB
f) FRT # 119588 – Swiss Arms Heavy Metal
g) FRT # 119485 – Swiss Arms Red Devil
h) FRT # 119484 – Swiss Arms Edition
3. It should be noted that the manufacturer of these rifle models has had an “evolution of name” over the last 35 years – from SIG to SIG ARMS AG and then to SAN Swiss Arms AG in 2000 when the plant and name were purchased, the factory is still located at Neuhausen, Switzerland.
4. One constant during this time period was that the brand name and model names of the commercial and para-military firearms produced by Swiss Arms during all manufacturer name changes remained constant (except for the military models) as a prefix of SG followed by a three digit model number, the first two digits of which identifies families of firearms.
5. The Swiss Arms, model SG 550 is essentially an improved version of the SG 540 rifle, known as the SG541 which was developed to meet Swiss Army requirements in a competition to develop the next Swiss Military Service Rifle, (which took place between 1981 – 1984). Improvements were made to the fabrication of the SG540 rifle receiver increasing the strength and rigidity of the receiver particularly the magazine housing area and the rear part against which the bolt assembly impacts on recoil. This improved rifle design was designated the SG541. It should be noted that all the firearms which came after the SG541 are Stgw 90, the PE 90 series of military target shooting firearms and the SG550 & SG551.
6. During this 1981 to 1984 development period the SG 541 rifle with all the required changes and improvements was submitted to the Swiss Army and upon being adopted by the Swiss Government as the next military service rifle was “type classified” as the Stgw 90 (Sturmgewehr 1990 or Assault Rifle 1990). The SG540 and SG541 series of rifles were superseded. The rifle known as the SG 550 and the SG551 are the “SWISS ARMS” commercial sales versions of the Stgw90 destined for police and para-military sales in Switzerland and foreign export.
7. The SG 540 series of rifles went through a development stage from 1971 to 1977 and eventually evolved into the SG544. The SG 540 series of firearms was never adopted by the Swiss Military. The SG 541 (trials rifle) was adopted by the Swiss military in 1983 becoming the Stgw 90, the manufacturer issued commercial versions of the Stgw 90 as the SG550 & SG551 in 1984).
The SG 550 does not share the exact same receiver design as the SG540.
8. It should be noted that semi-automatic, civilian “Military Target Shooting versions” of the SG550/Stgw 90 rifles exist, known as the PE, PE90, PE ESF, 550SP, SG550-1 PE90 Oliv-Grun, SG550-1 PE90 Black Special, SG550-1 PE90 Blue, SG550-1 PE90 Sand, PE90 Black Special, PE90 Blue Star, PE90 Heavy Metal, PE90 Red Devil, PE90 Classic Green, depending on configuration. These civilian, semi-automatic, Military Target Shooting variants of the SG550 can be found in Swiss Arms advertising.
9. a) The most generous interpretation of our research would be that all the firearms in the list appended to paragraph 2 are prohibited variant or modified versions of the SG 550 rifle or SG551 Carbine as found in the Criminal Code Regulations appended to CC PART III, Section 84 (1), PROHIBITED FIREARMS paragraph 83.
b) In the sure knowledge civilian, semi-automatic, Military Target Shooting versions of these firearms exist, there is some doubt whether the firearms contained in List 2 and imported into Canada over the last twelve (12) years may possibly be “converted automatic” (C/A) firearms rather than semi-automatic firearms.
c). The principle concern, which was a major distraction over the years, has been the design lineage of the firearm; ie) whether or not they are SG550 or SG551 variants. These firearms have not been assessed against the “converted automatic” criteria nor have these firearms been assessed as to ease of conversion to full automatic fire capability. On that note the firearm serial number ESF9116 appears to be a purpose built semi-automatic receiver, while the two other firearms, serial numbers ESF74361 and a Swiss Arms, Model Classic Green (stripped) receiver, serial number ESF73096 appear to have been converted into semi-automatic firearms from full automatic receivers.
10. It is incumbent upon you to conclusively support your statements that these firearms (contained in List 2) are variant or modified versions of the SG540 as has been maintained both by you and various Swiss Arms AG employees for the last 12 years. Also required is a definitive statement supported by factory drawings and official Swiss Arms AG signed documents that the firearms contained in List 2 are not variant or modified versions of the SG550 or SG551.
11. RCMP – Specialized Firearms Support Services would like to finalize this matter in a timely manner. If we have not heard from you by 2013-06-30, we will consider that you concur with our findings and we will proceed with action to rectify errors created by erroneous information.
The Email from the Senior Firearms Technologist to Calgary Shooting Center.
Good afternoon James Bachynsky:
We have recently come into possession of a firearm reportedly purchased from your firm, The Calgary Shooting Center. The purpose was to establish the legitimacy of what has been reported to RCMP-Specialized Firearms Support Services Section (SFSS) as a “spurious” copy of the SAN Swiss Arms Model Classic Green Rifle.
Before we close the Inspection File for the Classic Green line of products it remains to ask you to supply a statement as to the lineage of the SAN SWISS ARMS Model Classic Green firearms, sold by your firearms business if you are able to do so, in the expectation that you may have a reasonable explanation of the background of this firearm.
The RCMP is interested in this firearm because there are conflicting statements as to the origin of the SAN SWISS ARMS Model Classic Green (and indeed the entire “family” of Swiss Arms firearms) made both by Canadian business importers and by SAN Swiss Arms AG, the Swiss firearm manufacturer. The literature about this subject and the technical background data about the transition from the SG540 to the SG541 and subsequently the Stgw 90, Stgw 90 PE and the SG550 and the SG550 PE is rather sparse.
Would you please supply any information of which you are in possession or available to you as to the design lineage of the SG540, SG541, Stgw 90, the SG550 and SG551 firearms. We are looking for definitive support for the position that these firearms derive from the SWISS ARMS Model SG540 and not the SG550 as has been maintained both by a previous importer and various Swiss Arms AG employees throughout the last 12 year time period. Also required to finalize this case, is a definitive statement, supported by factory drawings or documents, that the SAN SWISS ARMS AG firearm model, known as the SIG Sturmgewehr 550 / PE 90 Grun, part number SG 550– 000-003, either is or is not in fact the firearm sold as the Swiss Arms Classic Green and further whether this firearm is or is not a variant or modified version of the SAN SWISS ARMS AG, Model SG550 or SG551.
The most generous interpretation of our research would be that the SAN SWISS ARMS Model Classic Green firearm is a prohibited variant or modified version of the SG 550 rifle or SG551 Carbine as found in the Criminal Code Regulations appended to CC PART III, Section 84 (1), PROHIBITED FIREARMS paragraph 83.
In the sure knowledge civilian, semi-automatic, military target shooting versions of these firearms exist, there is some doubt whether the SAN Swiss Arms AG firearms imported into Canada over the last twelve (12) years may possibly be “converted automatic” (C/A) firearms rather than semi-automatic firearms.
The principle concern, which was a major distraction over the years, has been the design lineage of the firearm; ie) whether or not they are SG550 or SG551 variants. For this reason these firearms have never been assessed against the “converted automatic” criteria nor have these firearms been assessed as to ease of conversion to full automatic fire capability.
RCMP – Specialized Firearms Support Services would like to finalize this matter in a timely manner. If we have not heard from you by 2013-06-30, it will be assumed that you have no information to contribute.
William (Bill) Etter
Chief Firearms Technologist
Specialized Firearms Support Services
Firearms Investigative & Enforcement Services Directorate
RCMP – CFP
Further emails from the RCMP media liaison have been unclear. I submitted a number of questions and received the following responses:
1) Can you confirm that the Canadian Firearms Program inspected 3 SAN rifles with the serial numbers ESF9116, ESF74361, and ESF73096?
The CFP can confirm that it is examining the Swiss Arms PE Classic Green rifle.
2) Can you confirm the date that the Canadian Firearms Lab took possession of these rifles?
The CFP can confirm that it is examining the Swiss Arms PE Classic Green rifle.
3) Can you briefly explain the findings from the Firearms Lab in regards to each of those serial numbers?
The Swiss Arms PE Classic Green rifle is currently under review.
4) Can you offer a brief explanation of the documentation that would be necessary to ascertain the lineage of these firearms?
All documentation from the manufacturer identifying the antecedents of the firearm and its components is helpful
5) Is there a deadline for such documentation? Have you received any from either Canadian or Swiss businesses?
There is no deadline for this documentation
Greg Cox, Sergeant/Sergent
Media Relations Officer / Relationniste de presse
National Communication Services/
For those of you that have stuck with the story so far, this here is one of the rifles deemed by the RCMP to be converted:
But of course the most important question is:
Where are we going?
The June 30th deadline is important. Both CSC and TSE may submit evidence to the RCMP regarding the lineage of the SAN rifles.
It would seem that JR is preparing to visit Switzerland in order to secure the documents we need. It is not certain, but it is certainly hoped that SAN will be able to provide clear documentation proving the Classic Green and other Canadian rifles are not 550 variants. This would be a comprehensive solution to that issue.
It seems that SAN is currently conducting an internal audit to track the converted auto parts. It seems that at some point those parts got over here, and we will likely have to do something about them. Whether that means a recall, re-verification, or any other course of action remains to be seen.
So what can we as gun owners do right now?
1. Support anyone looking to firmly establish the lineage of these rifles.
2. Learn how to inspect your own rifle for C/A parts, and be prepared to turn them in.
It is important to remind ourselves that currently nothing has changed. Results are far from certain at this stage.
While it may be frustrating that clashes between individuals have landed us in this situation, the fact is that we are here now, and we must play the hand we’re dealt.