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Surplus store business licence revoked
City council has revoked the business licence of a Front Street store raided by police in late February.
City staff recommended Westley Military Surplus be shut down after owner Westley Baker faced five charges of unauthorized transfer of ammunition and one for manufacturing a firearm. He pleaded not guilty to all charges in court April 8.
Council agreed with the recommendation with a 5-1 vote following a lengthy hearing Monday.
On Feb. 25 the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – Gang Task Force executed search warrants at the store and Baker’s Coquitlam residence seizing dozens of replica starter pistols, some of which had been converted to shoot live ammunition. Police allege officers posing as customers were given advice by Baker on how to convert the guns. According to a report to council from Supt. Tom McCluskie, the head of the force, a semi-automatic assault rifle was also found on the premises.
“We don’t do this type of process lightly,” said Coun. Betty McIntosh on Tuesday. “It is treated like an open court case. For the public’s safety, staff felt it was time to pull the licence. He can always apply for a new licence. It’s disturbing there would be this type of equipment being available.”
In a letter to council, Baker made a plea to keep his business open. He said since the raid many customers have come to the store to show support, and although he has been considering retirement, the 61-year-old wanted to keep the business in good standing with the city by selling “only surplus, clothing, war medals and outdoor items” until the court case was concluded.
That concession was one of the reasons Coun. Bill Harper opposed closing the store down.
“My view is all the safety issues had been addressed and there would be continued monitoring [by city staff to make sure Baker kept his word].”
Harper also said the evidence given by the RCMP was not substantive.
“They had a great deal of difficulty answering questions put forth by myself and [Baker’s lawyer Derek Birch],” said Harper.
“If we just accept the report every time a police report comes forward everyone loses their licence. If that’s the case there is no sense in having a hearing. The evidence in this one was very thin on both sides. A solution was put forward, and if he was proven guilty in court than his licence would be revoked.”
Baker’s lawyer, Derek Birch, said Tuesday his client was disappointed but no appeal is planned.
“The only thing that we can do with these things is to have a judicial review to the B.C. Supreme Court. That is not going to be pursued in this case, to my knowledge,” said Birch.
He also wrote to council and expressed concern about how fast the city was closing down a business that had been going since 1985, based solely on three letters from police officers.
“Mr. Baker has no information regarding the substance and detail of the allegations being made against him, and therefore no knowledge of the case to be met, other than the sensationalist and wildly inaccurate information provide [sic] to you by Superintendent Tom McCluskie, Cpl. Joel Hussey and Insp. Les Flewelling who seeks to link Mr. Baker and his business to organized crime and murder on the basis of his sale of starter pistols and blank firing guns,” wrote Birch.
He also pointed out starter pistols and flare guns are widely available at many other retailers in New Westminster and online.
Baker is due back in court May 17 to fix a trial date.