Peacekeepers plan to keep watch at smoke shacks

Intend to photograph customers and record license plates

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

July 29, 2009

The lead organizer of the Caledonia Peacekeepers group says that planned surveillance outside smoke shacks along Highway Six in Caledonia will include photographing customers and recording their license plates.

Doug Fleming emphasized that it's illegal for anyone to stop at these smoke shacks and purchase tobacco products, let alone sell them.

"The most that we hope to accomplish at least for the time being is to collect evidence of illegal activity that's taking place that everybody knows about," he said.

Gary McHale, a member of the Peacekeepers and the Executive Director of the group Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality, said that his group has spoken with Royal Canadian Mounted Police who have agreed to accept evidence of illegal activity at the smoke shacks.

"The law doesn't make a distinction between whether you're buying or selling," he said.

The most common charge laid by the RCMP pertaining to contraband tobacco is for possession of illegal cigarettes, McHale found out. The penalty is usually based on the number of illegal cigarettes that a person has in their possession and can amount to thousands of dollars in fines.

McHale argues that there are more than 20 different charges that could be laid against smoke shack operators under various acts at both the federal and provincial levels.

Shack operators are in violation of the Smoke Free Ontario Act simply for having tobacco products on display, he argues.

After years of frustration, Fleming is fed up with the inaction of federal and provincial law enforcement officials.

"We thought if we just wrote letters to officials and went to Queen's Park and stomped out feet and held our breath that the government would fix it," Fleming said. "We realize now that's not going to happen."

Land claim negotiations could go on for decades, he argues.

"They can't possibly expect a group of law abiding citizens to sit back for the rest of their lives and allow this type of thing to go on, but it will. If it's up to government it will never change... I don't believe we should have to live like this. We don't want to be law enforcement officials. We just want law enforcement officials to act like law enforcement officials."

If customers who frequent smoke shacks think that their license plates will be recorded or be photographed and passed on to the RCMP, they may choose to buy their products from legal businesses, Fleming added.

"What's going on here is wrong."

Some illegal smoke shacks have been established on private properties on Highway 6 outside Caledonia. Others are situated on land parcels owned by the province and Six Nations that have not been added to the Indian Reserve.

Haldimand Mayor Marie Trainer said that landowners, including Six Nations Elected Council, have been sent letters from the county, informing them of bylaw and building code infractions within Haldimand's jurisdiction. But the province doesn't have to conform, she said.

"We are creatures of the province so they don't have to listen to us. That's the only problem. You and I have to, but they don't."

However, McHale argues that the province is bound by municipal bylaws according to an Ontario Court of Appeal decision. At the very least, the province should be forced to defend itself, he said.

McHale believes that councillors have put themselves in a tough spot by exercising their authority on a private landowner, but not taking similar action against the province and Six Nations.

"Have they been issued fines?" he wonders. "Are they being taken to court?"

Councillors haven't held the province accountable for bylaw violations in the past so that they could get money to boast about in the next election, McHale charges.

He pointed out that Haldimand recently received federal and provincial funding to help build two new arenas in Cayuga and Dunnville.

However, illegal smoke shacks threaten public safety, said McHale, citing a shooting outside one shack in 2007 and a US congressional report that says illegal tobacco is the number one way of funding international terrorism in North America.

He said that he isn't opposed to using the courts to hold councillors responsible.

"Just because councillors are spineless doesn't mean that the public should be endangered."

Future meetings of the Caledonia Peacekeepers will be held privately, Fleming said.

Recently he applied to have another meeting at the Cayuga Lions Hall, however the service club told him he could only hold the meeting if he didn't advertise in advance.

A contingent of protesters from all over Ontario converged in Cayuga last month when Fleming held a meeting to detail the plans of a militia group, later dubbed the Caledonia Peacekeepers.

Fleming said he understands the concerns of the Lions who probably don't want to see a similar showing outside their building that's located in a residential area.

"But I'm not interested in renting if I'm going to be forbidden to advertise," Fleming said. "I don't know if that's a common practice for renting a public facility."

Some people spend hours coaching little league, he added. "That won't change the world," he argues, "but this is my contribution to bettering the community."

Anyone who is interested in hearing more or would like to join the Peacekeepers can contact Doug Fleming at 905-765-2838.