Reserves targeted in battle against contraband tobacco

Posted: May 8, 2008 in Conservatives, Headlines, Natives, RCMP, Tobacco Kings
The Globe & Mail
May 8, 2008

OTTAWA — The RCMP and the Conservative government are targeting three of the most volatile native reserves in the country as part of a new effort to battle contraband tobacco and organized crime.

A report released yesterday by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and RCMP Assistant Commissioner Raf Souccar singled out Kahnawake in Quebec and Tyendinaga and Six Nations in Ontario as the Canadian sources of illicitly manufactured tobacco.

Factories on the U.S. side of Akwesasne, which straddles the Canada-U.S. border, remain the largest producers of illegal tobacco in Canada, and Mr. Day said he was working with American officials on that front.

But when asked about the three Canadian reserves identified in the report, Mr. Day promised actions “that weren’t taken before” to get members of these communities onside.

“When a community sees that the government, police and various agencies are all working together and are really going to be there to support the reduction of criminal activity, you find more and more response, more and more collaboration from the individuals in the communities themselves … once they’re convinced you are actually going to be there for them.”

The report acknowledges that the existing approach – focused on sporadic raids and intercepting deliveries on Canadian highways – is not working. Mr. Day said some of the 1,000 new RCMP officers being recruited will mean more police dedicated to fighting contraband, which he said is funding organized crime and possibly even terrorists.

Anti-tobacco advocates concerned about the health impacts of widely available cheap cigarettes have accused governments and police of turning a blind eye to tobacco violations on Canadian reserves for fear of politically embarrassing confrontation.

Mr. Day’s news conference with the RCMP appears to signal a new willingness to take that political risk.

The report says the 315 known smoke shops in Canada selling the untaxed tobacco at prices as low as $6 for 200 cigarettes can be found on just six reserves.

It further identifies the three Mohawk communities manufacturing illegal tobacco. All three have a history of confrontation.

Kahnawake was at the heart of the 78-day Oka crisis in 1990, Tyendinaga has been the source of several tense confrontations between natives and the Ontario Provincial Police in recent weeks and Six Nation protesters are in their third year of occupying a housing development in Caledonia, Ont.

Though the RCMP report links the hike in contraband to high federal and provincial tobacco taxes, Quebec Revenue Minister Jean-Marc Fournier warned tobacco tax cuts would boost youth smoking.

Mr. Fournier offered support for increasing police intervention on native reserves, but cautioned against aggressive action that could threaten social peace and risk a repeat of the Oka confrontation that saw a Sûreté du Québec police officer shot dead.

“We need to be responsible in the way we enforce the law and take into account the precedents.”

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