Four times the RCMP raided smoke shops selling what the province deemed to be illegal cigarettes and four times contraband was seized and arrests were made. However, each time, the man police believe to be the kingpin of the operation walked scot-free.
That all changed recently when Craig Blacksmith was picked up by RCMP on the Dakota Plains First Nation, which is located southwest of Portage la Prairie.
"(The RCMP) raided our store on the reserve," Blacksmith said, referring to a smoke shop established on the First Nation. "They confiscated cigarettes and I spent a night in jail. I have been charged with selling unmarked cigarettes."
RCMP didn’t confirm or deny that Blacksmith is being investigated, but did say that no charges have officially been sworn into provincial court.
Regardless, Blacksmith doesn’t believe the long arm of the law can reach into reserve business.
"It’s going to come down to jurisdiction," Blacksmith said.
"This is a completely different set of circumstances. The previous arrests were all off the reserve and this one was on the reserve, so now apparently they think they have jurisdiction on the reserves."
In the past, RCMP busted the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop and Gaming Centre, which set up shop near Pipestone in 2011.
The shop was so successful on its first day in business that it had to close to secure more cut-rate cigarettes from Quebec.
During their first bust, RCMP seized 90,000 cigarettes and charged three men under the province’s Tobacco Tax Act.
Further busts followed, landing charges against Chief Frank Brown and Chief Orville Smoke. Members of Blacksmith’s family, including his sister Pamela, were also charged under the act.
However, each time, the RCMP failed to net Blacksmith, who after the first raid in November 2011 promised to be back open using a hidden supply of tobacco the following day.
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Chief Vince Tacan has been opposed to what he calls "illegal smoke shops" from Day 1.
Tacan took on the renegades after Blacksmith announced he planned to open a convenience store in Sioux Valley that would sell cut-rate Mohawk cigarettes in February 2012.
Tacan has maintained f that Blacksmith used the guise of fighting for Dakota rights as a way to sell illegal cigarettes and line his own pockets.
"We have laws and if you get caught you have to face the music," Tacan said. "Now instead of being the spokesperson, he can be the one who is charged for a change. It’s easy to stand up and make statements when others are at risk of being incarcerated because of your ideas, so now we will find out if those ideas have any merit."
In February 2013, the loss of cigarette sales to the Sioux Valley Gaming Centre impacted council’s ability to provide basic services.
"We apply for rebates and get our taxes back, which goes back into the community," Tacan said, adding that the money is often used to fund sports activities and medical expenses.
"It comes down to money for him," Tacan said. "He’s always bragging about his cars and selling cigarettes has been good for him, but I don’t think it’s good for the band."
While Tacan said he never wishes to see someone dragged in front of the courts, it’s time for Blacksmith to put his money and principles where his mouth is.
"While some guys were going to court and facing potential jail time, he was still going around selling cigarettes and living a good lifestyle," Tacan said. "He seemed untouchable."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 24, 2014