Manitoba government officials have confiscated more than 89,000 cigarettes from a First Nation-run shop that was intentionally selling the smokes without a licence.
Manitoba Finance says its special investigations unit, along with RCMP, seized about 89,550 contraband cigarettes from the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop near Pipestone, Man., at about 12:20 p.m. CT on Tuesday.
"The cigarettes seized are federally stamped under the Excise Act 2001 but are not marked or stamped for sale in Manitoba," the province said in a release.
Provincial officials are expected to show off the seized cigarettes to reporters on Wednesday in Winnipeg. They say the investigation continues and charges are pending.
Located on off-reserve land about 80 kilometres southwest of Brandon, the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop was run by leaders from the Dakota Plains and Canupawakpa First Nations.
The store sold out of untaxed cigarettes — which came from Mohawk distributors from Quebec — within a day of opening on Nov. 9, prompting operators to close up shop until new product came in this week.
The smokes sold for $40 a carton or $5 a pack, less than half the price for Manitoba.
Hoping to spark legal battle
The shop's operators have also planned to have a casino-style poker lounge and video lottery terminals — all without a licence, in the hopes of generating much-needed revenue for First Nation members.
Canupawakpa Chief Frank Brown has already pledged to restock the shop's shelves as quickly as possible.
"When did the province have jurisdiction over First Nations, especially the Dakota?" Brown told CBC News on Tuesday.
The operators have also hoped to get arrested, so that the Canupawakpa First Nation can speed up a court battle to get treaty status.
Canupawakpa is in a relatively rare situation, as it had a treaty with the British, but current members don't have official treaty status, according to Brown.
The band filed a claim in federal court against Ottawa several years ago, but nothing has come of it, he said. That's why the band decided to make the move aimed at getting itself prosecuted.