OPP ask the public for help: Just not in Caledonia

by Gary McHale - The Regional

April 14, 2010

Community policing throughout Ontario involves the police seeking pro-active groups and individuals to aid in law enforcement, but in Haldimand County the OPP continues to treat residents as the enemy.

Just last week the OPP, near Cornwall, joined in a press conference to ask for the public's help in stopping the illegal tobacco trade that is out of control in Ontario. The press conference was a joint news release of the RCMP, OPP and Cornwall police representing all three levels of Government.

In 1993 to 1995 it was OPP Deputy Commissioner Chris Lewis who headed up the Regional Task Force (RTF) to fight against the illegal tobacco trade. It now appears the OPP is once again playing a major role in this fight - at least outside of Haldimand County.

The Cornwall Standard Freeholder newspaper reported on the press conference stating, "Police say many residents don't report smuggling activity for fear of retribution. The same kind of intimidation is being employed to make use of private property to unload shipments. It's not right that law abiding citizens should live in this kind of fear, but the fact it is happening speaks volumes about the kind of people behind the cigarette smuggling business. These are not nice people."

These 'not nice' people have cost Ontario taxpayers $500 million per year in lost taxes. According to the RCMP smokers have to realize that buying illegal smokes is supporting the dark side of tobacco contraband: the illicit drug trade, gun running and human trafficking.

In August 2008 the US Congress released a report entitled 'Tobacco and Terror: How Cigarette Smuggling is Funding our Enemies Abroad'. The report states, "Historically, the low risk, high profitability of the illicit cigarette trade serves as a gateway for traditional criminal traffickers to move into lucrative and dangerous criminal enterprises such as money laundering, arms dealing, and drug trafficking. Recent law enforcement investigations, however, have directly linked those involved in illicit tobacco to infamous terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda."

Last week the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco which includes the Ontario Medical Association, the Ontario Lung Association, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation held a press conference at Queen’s Park to highlight the issues. They claimed there are over 60,000 underage smokers.

Dr. Marco Buono, Heart and Stroke Foundation, stated that smokers usually start before age 20 and half of those who continue the habit long-term will die from illnesses such as cancer or heart disease.

In the short term we see the loss in taxes while these illegal cigarettes provide the funding for organized crime and terrorist groups. However, in the long term we will see an increase in youth smoking and continued medical problems for decades to come.

The short term political thinking of the OPP and McGuinty Government is going to have a ripple effect over the next 40 years. Everyone knows the reason why there is such inaction - in Ontario we do not have equality, we have far too many decisions made solely by looking at the race of the person involved in the illegal activity.

On the Ontario Government's website it states, "Ontario's Tobacco Control Act sets rules about selling and smoking tobacco. Its purpose is to reduce smoking, especially among young people. It also limits people's exposure to second-hand smoke in public places. There are other municipal, provincial and federal laws on tobacco."

Tobacco sales offences under this Act include selling to anyone under 19, selling tobacco in packages that do not conform to the Act or regulations and failing to post required signs.

We also have laws under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act which include selling or supplying tobacco to a person who is under 19 years old, displaying or promoting tobacco products, displaying tobacco products to buyers before they purchase and selling tobacco without signs bearing health warnings etc.

The Federal Excise Act makes it illegal to sell, offer for sale or have in one's possession a tobacco product unless it has the Federal stamp.

Locally there are by-laws against building structures without a permit which the County appears willing to apply against non-Natives but refuses to apply the law against Native people.

While outside of Haldimand County all levels of Government work together, along with the community, to bring an end to the illegal cigarette trade, inside Haldimand County there is no pro-active support of the communities' will to bring an end to the smoke shops.

Where was Mayor Trainer or councillor Grice this past Sunday when Doug Fleming had to once against draw attention to the illegal smoke shops? Where is the pro-active approach to do more than just talk?

On Dec. 5, 2007, four days after Doug Fleming's last illegal smoke shop protest, the media reported the following statement, "A native run smoke shop at the centre of a clash in Caledonia is going to be shut down. Last weekend two people were injured after a fight broke out as people on both sides of the land dispute argued over who's land the smoke shop was on. Haldimand County official Don Boyle says the move to close down the smoke shop is to restore 'peace and harmony'."

Since this is an election year, maybe Mayor Trainer and Councillor Grice could explain why 30 months after the county announced the smoke shop would be shut down it is still open for business?

And if the reason is that Mayor Trainer and Councillor Grice are helpless to do anything about it then why can they not at least join the public in protest against them?

One of the greatest problems over the past four years is how little support the elected officials, who don't mind cashing their paycheques, give to the people of Haldimand County including Council, MPP Toby Barrett and MP Diane Finley.

When was the last time anyone saw any of their elected officials publicly supporting the people? Talk is cheap but where is the action to support the people?