Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
More than three million unmarked cigarettes were seized by Brandon police in a joint investigation with the Ontario and Manitoba governments last week — one of the largest busts in Manitoba history.
Police arrested four Brandon men on Sept. 9 in relation to the bust and charged them with possessing unmarked tobacco and possessing more than 25 units of unmarked tobacco.
The four men were smuggling illegal tobacco into Manitoba from Six Nations First Nation, near Hamilton, Ont., said Brandon police inspector of operations Mike Pelechaty during a Wednesday press conference at Brandon police headquarters.
On Sept. 9, he said, officers pulled over a vehicle towing a large trailer in Brandon. Police executed a search warrant on the trailer and found 173 cases of unmarked cigarettes in the trailer.
A second search warrant the next day found 183 cases of unmarked cigarettes in a storage locker — for a total of 356 cases.
Approximately 3,570,400 individual cigarettes were seized in total, Pelechaty said, along with a vehicle, cash and transport trailer. Some of the cigarettes are menthols, which are also illegal in Canada.
See ‘Seized’ — Page A2
The men who are charged are between the ages of 46 and 60 and none are involved in gangs, Pelechaty said.
The investigation spanned approximately nine months, he said, and started with the provincial government and Ontario Ministry of Financial Investigations.
The men could face six months to five years in prison if convicted for the charges under the Criminal Code and the Tax Administration and Miscellaneous Taxes Act. The men are also facing fines under the Provincial Tax Acts.
The seizure saved the province more than $1 million in tax revenue losses, said Ron Bell, supervisor of the Manitoba Finance taxation special investigations unit.
"Contraband illegal tobacco represents a significant tax loss to the citizens of Manitoba. … If this would have entered the marketplace this would have been just over $1 million in tax revenue that would have been lost," he said.
"This was a well-organized group that stood to profit immensely from this illegal tobacco."
Cigarette busts are so far larger in 2020 than in past years, Bell said. Previously, 60 cases were considered a large bust, but the amounts are getting higher and higher.
In early May, RCMP seized approximately 3.5 million unmarked cigarettes, also in Brandon.
The potential profit from selling unmarked cigarettes is 300 per cent, Bell said — larger than selling either illegal cannabis or cocaine. The potential financial gain is what is driving people to attempt to sell larger amounts of the product.
"The financial reward if you’re able to make it work is mind-boggling," he said.
"People don’t think of it as a major crime, people don’t call up Crime Stoppers and say ‘There is a fellow that’s got a truckload of tobacco and he’s selling it at the corner of the back lane for $80 a carton.’"
While Bell wouldn’t say where specifically the cigarettes seized on Sept. 9 were headed, he said they could have been headed anywhere in the world.
There are no illegal cigarette manufacturing facilities in western Canada, Bell said, so most come from Ontario and Quebec.
The seized cigarettes are set to be destroyed, Bell said. They will be escorted to a landfill in Winnipeg, where they will be buried in layers under a pile of garbage.
The four men charged in the bust are set to appear in court on Nov. 12.
» Twitter: @DrewMay_
As we navigate through unprecedented times, our journalists are working harder than ever to bring you the latest local updates to keep you safe and informed.
Now, more than ever, we need your support.
Starting at $4.99/month you can access your Brandon Sun online and full access to all content as it appears on our website.Subscribe Now
or call circulation directly at (204) 727-0527.
Your pledge helps to ensure we provide the news that matters most to your community!