Thursday, May 22, 2008

Redskin: Canada's Colonial Revival

Native leader warns of confrontations over tobacco strategy

Andrew Mayeda, Canwest News Service
Published: Wednesday, May 07, 2008

OTTAWA - A Mohawk leader is warning the Harper government to expect "confrontation" if the RCMP plan more raids on tobacco-manufacturing facilities on aboriginal reserves as part of a new federal enforcement strategy to combat contraband tobacco.

Meanwhile, anti-smoking advocates predict the strategy will fail unless the Canadian government steps up diplomatic pressure on the United States to shut down unlicensed manufacturing facilities south of the border.

The new RCMP strategy, unveiled Wednesday, will focus on dismantling manufacturing facilities, disrupting supply lines and seizing contraband tobacco and the related proceeds reaped by organized crimes.

According to the RCMP, most of the illegal tobacco in Canada originates from a triangle of Mohawk territories straddling Ontario, Quebec and the New York State border: the U.S. side of the Akwesasne reserve, the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal, and the Tyendinaga reserve near Belleville, Ont.

The RCMP and provincial police have conducted numerous raids of the reserves over the years. The Mounties and the Surete de Quebec raided all three reserves in March, arresting 29 people and seizing roughly $3 million in cash, drugs and firearms.

But Mike Delisle, grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, says it will be a "huge mistake" if the RCMP plan to step up such raids. The Kahnawake Mohawk do not consider the manufacture and sale of tobacco products on their land to be illegal, he said.

"If they're making the statement that raids are imminent, then obviously it concerns me, and I would hope that the federal government or the RCMP in conjunction (with the government) are smarter and take a more collaborative approach as opposed to running roughshod over this community, as they've tried in the past. Obviously, it didn't work out to anyone's benefit," he said.

Delisle said the response from his community could range from a peaceful standoff to "what we've seen in the past in terms of confrontation."

"Our past track records show that we have problem with invasion, regardless of whether you're talking about 400 years ago or 1990. I think they'd get a negative reaction from the community in general if they took that approach."

The Kahnawake Mohawk participated in blockades with other Mohawk during the 1990 standoff over land in Oka, Que. The RCMP stepped in to quell the crisis, but instead set off violent confrontations that injured several officers.

In announcing the strategy Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day offered few details on which manufacturing facilities it will target, and exactly how the RCMP will go about dismantling them.

Day said there is "no question a good portion" of illegal tobacco production takes place on reserves, but he emphasized the RCMP will collaborate with police on the reserves to address the problem.

"This is not an issue about targeting a community," said the minister.

RCMP assistant commissioner Raf Souccar, who accompanied Day to make the announcement, said the Mounties will target organized-crime groups at the "highest level," instead of "mom and pop" operations. "We are trying to go after the root of the tree so that we can take it out of business."

The Mounties will take a "multi-faceted approach" that includes education and prevention measures, he added.

Anti-smoking groups such as the Canadian Coalition for Action on Tobacco called the strategy an important first step. But some advocates say the strategy ignores the fact the vast majority of illegal tobacco in Canada is produced in the United States.

The RCMP have alleged that 90 per cent of the contraband tobacco seized in Canada is manufactured on the U.S. side of the Akwesasne territory.

"Just looking at the Canadian sources will have the benefit of reducing the problem, but we cannot effectively solve the problem unless we ensure we eliminate the illegal source of supply on the U.S. side of Akwesasne," Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society.

Day should call on his U.S. counterpart, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, to shut down the Akwesasne facilities, said Cunningham.

"There has been considerable discussion back and forth across the border with our American counterparts related to the problem," said Day. "We have certainly made known our concerns about illegal tobacco manufacture and distribution."

A spokeswoman for Day, Melisa Leclerc, said the minister has raised the issue in a meeting with Chertoff, but she declined to elaborate.

Last year, the RCMP seized 618,077 cartons of contraband cigarettes, a year-on-year increase of 30 per cent and the Mounties' largest seizure rate ever. Meanwhile, RCMP seizures of loose tobacco spiked nearly sevenfold last year to 141,374 bags.


No comments: