Reserves home to 50 illicit cigarette plants, say RCMP

From: Ottawa Citizen

But trafficking bill will likely die

By Douglas Quan

The RCMP estimates about 50 contraband tobacco manufacturers are operating on First Nations territories in Ontario and Quebec, according to a briefing document sent to the federal public safety minister earlier this year.

The document, released under access to information legislation, states that dozens of organized crime groups – mostly in Central Canada – are involved in the distribution of illegal smokes and reinvesting the profits they make into other crimes, including the trafficking of illicit drugs and firearms, and human smuggling.

In March, the Conservative government proposed new measures, including mandatory minimum penalties for repeat offenders involved in “high volume” trafficking and the creation of a 50-member RCMP anti-contraband force, to tackle the problem.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent decision to prorogue Parliament and launch a new session in October means Bill S-16 likely will be scrapped, though it can be reintroduced.

“We can’t speculate on upcoming legislation in the House of Commons, but our government will continue to act on its commitment to keep communities safe, including finding ways to address contraband tobacco trafficking,” Paloma Aguilar, press secretary for Justice Minister Peter MacKay, said in an email Tuesday.

Aguilar noted that the government previously invested $20 million into measures to disrupt the supply of and demand for contraband tobacco.

However, the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco – a group representing convenience stores, tobacco manufacturers and growers – has expressed concerns that the illegal cigarette industry continues to thrive and is even expanding in Atlantic Canada.

According to the briefing document, Mounties believe approximately 50 contraband manufacturers are operating in Quebec’s Kahnawake and Ontario’s Six Nations reserves. There are also an additional 10 manufacturers on the U.S. side of the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, which straddles the borders of Ontario, Quebec and New York State, “giving rise to jurisdictional and legal challenges between federal, provincial and state laws,” the document states.

The document says that organized crime groups are exploiting these jurisdictional challenges and that a 2012 Criminal Intelligence Service Canada national threat assessment identified at least 58 organized crime groups involved in the illegal tobacco trade across the country – 35 of them in Central Canada.

“The manufacture and distribution of this illegal commodity fuels the growth of organized criminal networks, and the availability of this illegal commodity results in losses of federal and provincial taxes and excise duties and undermines significant government investment and public health objectives,” the document states.

The document notes that from 2009 to 2011, RCMP reported seizures of contraband tobacco fell from 975,000 cartons to 580,000 cartons, suggesting that enhanced enforcement efforts were making a difference.

But recent intelligence, the document said, shows a rise in counterfeit tobacco products entering the Canadian market, as well as the diversion of some raw leaf tobacco to illegal manufacturers in Ontario and Quebec. “These illegal products are then transported through a national pipeline for sale to consumers as a cheaper alternative to legitimate tobacco products, thereby making it more accessible to youth.”



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