A local businessman says the RCMP used "Gestapo-ish" tactics in a raid on the east Hamilton flea market he manages.
On April 7, officers stormed into the Haggler's Flea Market, located in a strip mall on Barton Street East at Strathearne, arresting two vendors and seizing counterfeit DVDs and fake designer clothing, jewellery and purses.
Now, John Zipilli who has run the market for 28 years, is slamming the RCMP for how the blitz was conducted and the effect it has had on his vendors.
More than a dozen police officers charged into the building, he said, yelling expletives. Zipilli said the agents zeroed in on the booth of a woman who had previously been warned by authorities for selling counterfeit DVDs.
After finding that she didn't have any on sale, he said, police combed the store, where parents with children often shop, for more loot. He said RCMP never gave vendors a list of items that were taken and didn't take proper precautions to ensure only counterfeit items were seized.
"Then they went on a rampage," he said. "I thought I might have had a terrorist sitting in a back."
$100,000 in merchandise seized: RCMP
Steve Martin, an inspector with the RCMP’s Hamilton-Niagara detachment, disputed Zipilli's account of his agency's actions and defended how the raid was conducted.
"For the size of the mall, we consider that we came in with a measured response," Martin said. He said he could only speak in "generalities" about the case, given it is going before the courts.
'It wasn’t just a random one-off and it never is on these things.' —RCMP Inspector Steve Martin
However, he said blitzes on vendors of counterfeit goods usually occur during business hours, as the illegal items may not be on display outside of those times. Officers, he added, were decked out in raid gear for their own safety and also so the public could easily identify them as law enforcement. "We say that everything we do is for police officer and public safety."
The police, Martin said, don’t seize items indiscriminately, and often bring along copyright holders or their representatives for raids to help identify fraudulent material. "We don’t just show up on the Sunday and start taking stuff," he said, adding seized items would be returned if they were found not to be fakes.
"It wasn’t just a random one-off and it never is on these things. There’s considerable planning involved."
The RCMP has said it confiscated over $100,000 in counterfeit merchandise — a figure that Zipilli believes to be exaggerated.
"Excluding my two jewelers, there's not $100,000 in the whole place."
The RCMP, Martin noted, calculates the dollar amounts based on the estimated value of the goods if they were authentic. "It gives you a better understand of the impact it would have on the economy."
One of the vendors, a 45-year-old Guelph man, was handcuffed in front of his daughter, Zipelli said.
The other man who was arrested, Satish Maini, 61, of Mississauga, was back selling at the Market on Sunday. He told CBC Hamilton he's innocent. He estimated the RCMP took more than $1,000 in merchandise — mostly jackets, hats and children's clothing — from his stall. He insists the items were legal.
"They took all of my official, licensed Snap-On and NBA jackets. They were official jackets, official hats. Nothing big."
"I think they should either show me how it is illegal or bring my stuff back," he said. "I'm very upset because now I can't sell them."
Maini, who works during the week as a supervisor for a company in the Greater Toronto Area, said he is a law-abiding citizen and feels "disrespected" because of the police action.
"I have a respectable job. I make my living with my job to support my family. But here, one day a week, I make some extra money for my son to go to university."
Open only on Sundays, Hagglers has been at its current location in Hamilton's Parkdale neighbourhood for 12 years. Vendors rent stalls from Zipilli, selling a variety of products, ranging from clothing and jewelery to electronics and appliances, at discount prices.Related: Hamilton raid sheds light on trafficking of counterfeit goods
"Markets have always been around. It's a niche, right? You never know what kinds of deals you can find."
He said his vendors sometimes sell knockoff merchandise, often unknowingly, but insisted they're not criminals and shouldn't be treated as such.
"My vendors buy in bulk from wholesalers," he said. "When you go through the merchandise, who knows what's in there? They're not experts. So there's always knockoffs, but I direct you to any variety store right now and you'll see knockoffs just bluntly there on display."
But Martin said it’s unacceptable for flea market operators to take a lax approach to counterfeit goods.
"The mall owners have a fiduciary responsibility to understand that counterfeiting is illegal." Flea market owners, he added, should be aware that knockoff goods are often produced using child or slave labour. "They should have a really hard look at themselves first."
Maini said he can tell the difference between what's real and what's counterfeit, and takes pride in his shop, even though it's only a secondary source of income.
"They've got to bring my stuff back so I can sell my jackets and all that. Because I know they're legal," said Maini, who's scheduled to appear in court on June 5.
"That's my money. I bought them. Buying and selling, that's my business."