Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan didn’t back down from a pledge to shut down a smoke shop he believes is operating illegally, stating that the matter is simply a law enforcement matter.
“Plain and simple, we expect people to follow the law,” Swan said following a Thursday announcement at the Brandon Police Service station. “In the opinion of the Department of Finance, which enforces provincial taxes, the smoke shop, in their view, is not following the law. They have taken the steps they think are appropriate to prevent that smoke shop from operating.”
Critics of the government, such as Reg Helwer, the Manitoba Progressive Conservative justice critic and Brandon West MLA., question why it has taken so long for the law to be enforced.
“When I look at their discussions about the smoke shop, I wonder what has taken the province so long to deal with this issue?” Helwer said. “They have been breaking the law, I assume, for almost a year now. It has had a huge economic impact on a number of small businesses in southwestern Manitoba and the province has done very little. They have shut it down and shut it down and now they appear to actually be dealing with the issue. It’s about time.”
Swan confirmed that the province is using legal channels to find ways to prevent the smoke shop from operating, including the seizure of the building and its contents by the Sheriff’s department, who will then hold the property until a court orders otherwise.
“We are now seeking an injunction on the order for other relief which we think will stop the smoke shop from operating,” Swan said.
When asked if the property seized from the smoke shop could be sold under the province’s Criminal Property Forfeiture Act, Swan said he could not comment on the specifics of the case.
“I can tell you the forfeiture unit is always looking for more property,” Swan said. “We like the idea of taking property that’s been used for unlawful purposes and turn it into good.”
To date, the smoke shop has been raided five times by law enforcement personnel, and as first reported by the Brandon Sun on Thursday and mentioned by Swan, the province is seeking fines and other punitive action against the leaders of the smoke shop for activities that could be seen as contempt of court.
“From the province’s point of view, there are individuals who are selling cigarettes and are not paying provincial tax on it,” Swan said. “The taxes we collect from cigarettes are used for all of the good things such as health care, education and public safety. If individuals try to avoid the tax, we are going to take steps to prevent that from happening.”
Swan declined to comment on when the Sheriff’s office will take over the smoke shop as the proceedings are still before the court.
“We’ll respect whatever a judge has to say,” Swan said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 19, 2012