CORNWALL, Ontario - Tobacco smugglers in the Cornwall area could be staring at mandatory jail sentences for multiple convictions under a new offence being proposed to the criminal code.
The Conservative government Tuesday announced the changes, which also calls for the creation of a 50-member RCMP task force to better protect the international border from smugglers.
Local MP Guy Lauzon called the announcement "a great day" for the riding, given the stigma of smuggling that has been attached to our region.
"Finally the tools are available to do something about it," he said.
While specific numbers are hard to come by, Lauzon suggested a "good portion" of the new 50-member RCMP task force will be positioned in the Cornwall area.
And Lauzon trumpeted the jail sentences as a new weapon to deter would-be smugglers.
Many smugglers face huge fines that are then reduced by courts, or simply ignored by offenders.
"If they do pay it, it's considered the cost of doing business," said Lauzon. "Now, finally, they are going to be getting some time."
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews called the moves groundbreaking.
“Contraband tobacco fuels the growth of organized criminal networks, contributing to the increased availability of illegal drugs and guns in our communities," he said in a statement.
The goal of the RCMP anti-contraband tobacco force will be to target organized crime groups engaged in the production and distribution of contraband tobacco, to reduce the contraband tobacco market, and combat organized criminal networks, said the government in a news release.
The Tory bill targets individuals whose activities involve the sale, offer of sale, possession for the purpose of sale, transportation, distribution or delivery of contraband tobacco including high volume amounts of contraband tobacco. The maximum penalty for a first offence would be six months imprisonment on summary conviction and five years imprisonment if prosecuted on indictment.
The bill also proposes mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment for repeat offenders where a high volume of tobacco products is involved. The threshold to be considered “high volume” would be 10,000 cigarettes or 10 kilograms of other tobacco products.
The mandatory minimum penalties on indictment would be as follows:
- 90 days incarceration on a second conviction.
- 180 days incarceration on third conviction.
- Two years less a day on subsequent convictions.