By Adam Brazeau
CORNWALL, Ontario – Despite international border upgrades, a regional task force, and a state-of-the-art RCMP facility, an anti-contraband coalition describes Cornwall as an epicenter of Ontario’s illegal cigarette trade.
“Ontario has the worst contraband tobacco problem in Canada, and Cornwall is still definitely in the forefront of this battle,” said Gary Grant, spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco (NCACT) and a 39-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service.
Grant met with Ontario’s Finance Committee on the issue at a pre-budget consultation session Friday (Jan. 23) in Cornwall, after discussing the matter with Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy.
He described the city as one of the province’s major hubs for the manufacturing of contraband tobacco; a smuggler’s paradise, sitting along the St. Lawrence River and neighbouring the U.S.A., the First Nations community of Akwesasne, and Quebec.
“People (in the Cornwall area) will be either intimidated or paid off to let smugglers use their docks.”
The RCMP reported distribution routes across the river were armed with booby traps this winter, since many illegal shipments are being transported via snowmobile across the frozen ice.
A bag of 200 contraband cigarettes sell on the black market for as low as $8 compared to the $80 it costs for a legal carton of smokes.
Grant warns that if the government does not act, the contraband tobacco industry will continue to lead to increased profits to organized crime groups, increased access of youth to unregulated tobacco products, and the loss of billions of dollars of government revenue.
He pointed out that the SD&G OPP and Cornwall Community Police Service are much larger forces in the area, in comparison to the RCMP, but lack the necessary authority.
The coalition suggests that Ontario looks to Quebec’s Bill 59 for measures that have helped them reach a 50 per cent decrease in contraband. The legislation empowers local police with the authority to launch and prosecute anti-contraband tobacco investigations, and keep the fines.
The bill also restricts importing equipment to manufacture cigarettes, which makes it harder for illegal production.
As Grant pushes for more contraband enforcement, he’s also calling on the provincial government to more widely publicize Bill 186, which now allows police to seize contraband tobacco in plain view during their investigations, rather than calling on the RCMP.
“I’ve spoken to various police chiefs who didn’t even know it was in effect,” he said. “Hopefully, Cornwall police officers will take advantage of it.”
The coalition also suggests that regulating the materials needed to produce cigarette filters, like acetate tow which is only available from a few sources globally, would also make it harder to manufacture illegal tobacco products.
Grant said smokers can help stop tax revenue from going up in smoke by choosing not to purchase contraband tobacco.
For more information, visit stopcontrabandtobacco.ca.