Convenience stores demanding more action from goverment

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A vehicle filled with thousands of contraband cigarettes.

Canadian convenience store owners are demanding a more co-ordinated approach to fighting the scourge of contraband tobacco from senior governments.

Alex Scholten, president of the Canadian Convenience Stores Association, told officials at a Tuesday press conference that governments in Canada, Ontario, the United States and even some First Nations communities need to do more to keep contraband from being ferried across international borders.

The problem has plagued the Cornwall area for decades.

Scholten said $2.5 billion in tax revenue has been lost via the illegal tobacco trade and convenince stores - which sell legally stamped cogarettes - are losing out too.

"The bad news is we have issues," said Scholten in an interview with Seaway News. "(Smugglers) will sell to anyone, and everyone."

Scholten said Cornwall is a specific problem given its geography, which makes it easier for smugglers to bring their product into the country - given our proximity to the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve and the St. Lawrence River.

He said there is concern moving the Canada Customs checkpoint out of Cornwall - perhaps to the U.S. - will only serve to ramp up smuggling activites in this region.

"In 2009 we saw the highest level ever of smuggling," he said. That was before the customs the facility on Cornwall Island was shut down and temporarily moved to Cornwall.

Having the customs building in the city has helped reduce the amount of contraband that once flowed from Cornwall Island to the mainland, said Scholten.

"What we're asking for is if the border crossing moves, there has to be a significant increase in enforcement in the Cornwall area," he continued.

There have been suggestions by the Canadian government that dozens more RCMP officers, perhaps 50, could be added to the pool locally to help fend off the contraband trade.

"We fully expect the 50 RCMP officers to be put in place," said Scholten.

There appears to be growing support for such a move.

Dozens of municipalities in Ontario, including Cornwall, have passed motions demanding more government money be spent on battling smuggling.

Scholten said the number of municipalities equates to about 40 per cent of the Ontario population.

"What that tells us is these municipalities...recognize (smuggling) is an attack on their communities."

Smugglers are often supported by members of organized crime, who use the money made from contraband tobacco to augment drug, gun and human smuggling operations.

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