The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) sent 120 officers to raid locations in Châteauguay, Laval and Longueuil to break apart a “huge tobacco smuggling network,” the agency said in a media release on June 28.
Six people were arrested, including the leader, and nine searches were conducted in homes and businesses. Fifty vehicles were also seized, including luxury and classic cars, from a Châteauguay warehouse, the RCMP said.
This comes on the heels of a $1.5 billion lawsuit filed against reserve manufacturers and retailers on First Nations reserves, according to Postmedia News on June 17. Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. targeted manufacturers and sellers of what it said was contraband tobacco.
Imperial spokesman Eric Gagnon told Postmedia News that 18 manufacturers on reserves, including Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont., and Kahnawake, Que., had been served with papers in recent weeks.
The RCMP arrests were part of the police force’s Customs and Excise Section’s operation, Project Castelnau, started in July 2009, the RCMP said. Châteauguay resident John Stacey was the alleged leader of “a criminal organization engaged in the illegal distribution and sale of tobacco products,” the RCMP said. “The group operated mainly from the Kahnawake aboriginal territory and the city of Châteauguay,” on Montreal’s south shore.
Stacey, the RCMP alleged, owned smoke shacks on Kitigan Zibi aboriginal territory as well as Kahnawake, and a company, Kahnawake Tobacco Manufacturing, supplied from Akwesasne.
“The tobacco products were then illegally distributed to other Aboriginal territories in Québec and New Brunswick,” the RCMP said.
This promises to feed into a debate over tobacco regulations across Canada. In January 14 million cigarettes were seized on an Alberta reserve, and 6.3 million in Eastern Ontario, by provincial authorities. Both tribes said the cigarettes were going to be sold on reserves only and thus were not contraband. Investigations were continuing.