Targeting customers of smoke shacks a start

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

August 26, 2009

Local residents and politicians say that enforcement initiated last week on customers who buy contraband from illegal smoke shacks on Highway 6 is only a start.

Officers of the Ministry of Revenue have been confiscating illegal tobacco products from vehicles and are issuing warnings, handing motorists copies of the Tobacco Tax Act.

According to Canadian laws, both the sale and purchase of contraband tobacco is illegal. Both the seller and the buyer are subject to fines and possible jail time.

Coun. Craig Grice said he thinks that officers acting on behalf of the Ministry of Revenue should be going after the source, but admitted that they have to start somewhere.

"I don't want the smoke shacks there. Local residents don't want them there," he said.

"People must know it's illegal when they go there because they aren't taxed."

Scott Blodgett, a ministry spokesperson said that it's policy not to discuss present and future investigations.

OPP Cst. Paula Wright could not province details either and said the OPP is only assisting the ministry.

"Our focus is ensuring the public and traffic safety during the initiated vehicle stops," she said. "The ministry's officers do the enforcement solely. We just ensure that when they do that it's done safely."

A group of local citizens is planning surveillance initiatives outside the local shacks.

Gary McHale said that the RCMP has agreed to accept evidence gathered by the Caledonia Peacekeepers group, but he argues that the OPP can still move forward with their own enforcement.

"If the Ontario Revenue agency was with the OPP yesterday stopping cars, then why didn't they bring the OPP in to lay charges against the natives themselves?" he wonders. "Once again they're prepared to enforce the law against mom and pop non-native while they're prepared to allow natives to completely flout the law openly. And it's the same department that was calling the RCMP regarding the smoke shops. The revenue agency can call in the RCMP or the OPP."

However, local resident Doug Fleming said that the arrests of several smoke shack operators by the OPP earlier this year have done little to change the situation on Highway 6.

"Nothing has changed except we have twice as many of them," he said.