Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

U.S. woman says sorry for toting gun to border

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A Florida cancer survivor whose "bucket list" road trip to Canada ended with a trip to jail on accusations of international gun smuggling is apologizing to justice officials in hopes her case will be dropped.

Rita Shepard, 63, wrote a lengthy letter to her lawyer, and she forwarded a copy to the Free Press. In it, she explains how she wound up being charged under Canada's Customs Act and detained for days at the Winnipeg Remand Centre before being granted bail and allowed to return home pending trial.

Her case comes up again in court later this month.

According to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) allegations, Shepard tried to bring a prohibited automatic handgun into the country in mid-August, failed to report she had the weapon and also made a false statement to a CBSA officer about it.

In her letter, Shepard said she carried the gun for protection but realized while driving north she'd likely made a huge error in judgment when she brought it along.

"Can't believe I got caught up in the hype to get a gun in the first place," Shepard wrote. "What I am guilty of is being scared to death of telling anyone I had an empty gun in the car for fear of getting arrested in which I did get arrested anyway!" she stated.

Shepard bought the gun in 2012 at the urging of friends who were concerned she lived alone, she said. "I figured it wouldn't be such a bad idea. I kept it on my end table unloaded."

After telling friends about wanting to take a "bucket list" road trip to various parts of the U.S. and Manitoba to visit friends and family after surviving a bout with lymphoma, they were "extremely concerned," said Shepard. They convinced her to take the gun along for protection.

"My thought was I could keep it unloaded in the front seat just to scare someone off if they approach me in my car. It's no secret about all the carjackings and people getting attacked in their cars in the U.S.A.," she wrote.

Approaching the Canada-U.S. border crossing at Emerson, Shepard stopped to call and ask friends for advice. "They told me no matter what don't say anything about the gun or (border guards) will arrest you," she wrote.

She thought of ditching the gun but elected not to for fear someone might get hurt.

When she got to the border, she was overcome with fear.

"Never saw so many people toting guns," she said. "Obviously I'm not a good liar, especially when standing in front of (two) officers that had guns asking if there was a gun in the car. Never experienced anything like it in my entire life. I did tell them everything I knew," she said.

She was taken into custody and had to experience the humiliation of having Winnipeg friends post a bond to secure her release.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2013 A4

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