An air force major who faces dozens of charges for smuggling and importing unauthorized firearms has also received multiple medals for being the top rifle marksman in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
Maj. Kendrick Barling from the Royal Canadian Air Force won the Queen’s Medal for Champion Shot three years in a row from 2011 to 2013, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence (DND) confirmed in an email to CBC.
He took home the honour a fourth time in 2016, according to an article from the Maple Leaf, an online publication that shares stories about the Forces.
The prize is a “big deal,” said retired lieutenant-colonel Rory Fowler, a former military lawyer now in private practice.
Fowler also said he’s surprised by the allegations because Barling had so much firearms knowledge.
“It really is confounding,” Fowler said. “An individual who clearly has the experience that he has with firearms would know the risks that they’re taking.”
Barling returned to Canada in August after five years in the U.S., according to a news release from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
His household goods were shipped through Canadian Forces Base Trenton where “numerous undeclared firearms” were found “hidden throughout the shipment,” it reads.
Investigators with the CBSA’s Ontario firearms smuggling enforcement team then searched a home in Kingston and another in Petawawa in October.
The agency said they seized two shotguns, seven handguns, 10 rifles and roughly 45,000 rounds of ammunition, along with hundreds of magazines, some of which were over capacity.
CBSA also said multiple firearms had duplicate serial numbers.
The agency declined an interview and did not directly respond to questions about the firearms that were seized, citing the ongoing investigation.
Major faces 29 charges
Barling is charged with five counts of smuggling goods into Canada, as well as two counts each of making false statements and importing goods without a permit.
He also faces nine counts each of importing a firearm knowing it is unauthorized and unauthorized importing of a firearm, plus two counts of contravening transportation regulations.
None of these charges have been tested in court.
Barling’s prowess as a sharpshooter has been well-documented. There are several articles on the National Defence website detailing his awards for his marksmanship.
One Maple Leaf article from February 2014, which lists the author as Barling himself, includes a picture of the then-captain sitting in a wooden chair carried on the shoulders of several others in uniform.
He’s shown smiling and holding a rifle by his side. A similar photo is included in a 2016 piece about his win that year.
The caption for the photo explains “chairing” is part of a tradition dating back more than 130 years, which sees the medal-winner carried from the shooting range by their competitors.
“The fact that he is a past champion, on multiple occasions, is going to draw a great deal of attention,” said Fowler.
“I will guarantee you that the amount of spin going on at National Defence Headquarters because of this, and because of the notoriety of it, is probably reaching supersonic levels.”
Officer wrote about award-winning efforts
Barling is described in the 2014 article as an air combat systems officer who was posted to NORAD headquarters in Colorado Springs at the time. He discussed the challenge of training for competitions.
“I don’t have access to the weapons, ammunition and range time like everyone else back in Canada has,” it reads. “I try to do what I can with my own personal equipment.”
Barling said his goal was to someday win both the rifle and pistol competitions at the same time, describing it as his motivation to keep training.
A DND spokesperson said the major is currently employed as deputy co-ordinator for air planning with the 1st Canadian Division in Kingston.
The CAF will assist CBSA with its investigation as required and has provided an attending officer who will follow Barling’s case in court, the department added.
Fowler called the charges “serious” and said Barling will likely lose his right to possess firearms and could be released from the military if he’s found guilty.
CBC was unable to reach Barling for comment.