Contraband cigarette trade hit by border dispute

Prices for contraband cigarettes have doubled and supplies have dwindled in eastern Ontario and western Quebec since a border post at Cornwall, Ont., was moved due to a dispute with local Akwesasne Mohawks.

“The local suppliers or dealers in Cornwall or other cities like Ottawa — they’re at the bottom of the list for the product,” said RCMP Sgt. Michael Harvey. “The priority is to get it to other aboriginal communities and their smoke-shacks, where they are then selling it to Montreal and larger cities.”

Police said the supply and price crunch are the result of Canadian Border Services Agency’s decision to temporarily move its border post from Cornwall Island to the north side of the Seaway International Bridge — further away from the border.

Cornwall Island is located completely in Canada, but is part of the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory that straddles the Canada-U.S. border as well as the Quebec-Ontario boundary. RCMP estimated in 2008 that 90 per cent of illegal cigarettes sold in Canada come from Akwesasne, and cigarette smuggling costs the federal government as much as $2 billion in lost tax revenue per year.

Since the border-post move, anyone heading north from Cornwall island must stop at the border post, whether they ever left Canada or not. That has made things more difficult for smugglers, who increasingly must rely on more difficult water routes for the transportation of the cigarettes, Harvey said.
Contraband still cheaper

In Hawksbury, Ont., customers such as Josée, who wouldn’t give her last name, said finding native-brand cigarettes has become much harder. She said shops tell her to call back in a few days or a week. Josée added that she has been smoking native brands for five years and plans to buy them again when they are available, as they are cheaper than the legal variety, even after the recent price increase.

The Cornwall Island border crossing was shut down in June after Mohawks set up a camp there to protest a new federal policy of arming border guards with 9-mm handguns, saying the weapons violated their sovereignty and increased the likelihood of violent confrontations. The temporary border post was set up a month later.

source: http://www.cbc.ca

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