The First Nation operators of an unlicensed smoke shop and gambling lounge in western Manitoba are facing pressure from some groups to be shut down.
At least two national organizations are calling on the Manitoba government to crack down on the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop, which opened on Wednesday about 80 kilometres southwest of Brandon.
Run by leaders from the Dakota Plains and Canupawakpa First Nations, the off-reserve shop sold out of cheap cigarettes on the first day.
The operators say the store had to close until it receives new product next week.
The Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop sold cigarettes from Mohawk distributors in Quebec for $40 a carton or $5 a pack, less than half the price for Manitoba.
The store's operators plan to have a casino-style poker lounge and video lottery terminals — all without a license, in the hopes of generating much-needed revenue for First Nation members.
But the Canadian Convenience Stores Association warned that many more illegal smoke shops could open in Manitoba if the provincial government does not enforce the law quickly with the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop.
Sets 'dangerous precedent'
In a release issued Thursday, the association called on Premier Greg Selinger to "enforce current laws and avoid setting a dangerous precedent in the province with respect to the sale of contraband tobacco."
"We are certainly sympathetic to [native] rights, but not at the mercy of the hard-working and law-abiding convenience store owners who follow strict tobacco regulations and remit taxes but simply cannot compete with the illegal trade of contraband tobacco," Doug Hartl, vice-chair of the Western Convenience Stores Association, stated in the release.
The National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco also called on the province on Thursday to inspect the Dakota Chundee Smoke Shop, saying the store must follow existing laws and regulations that apply to other Canadian businesses that sell tobacco products.
But Craig Blacksmith, who helped open the shop, said he and other operators are hoping to be arrested when they reopen next week, in part so the Canupawakpa First Nation can speed up a court battle to get treaty status.
The First Nations also want to prove that licenses issued by the Dakota Plains First Nation for the smoke shop and gambling operation are legal.
"We wanted to get arrested, actually, so that we could prove our point in court. Nothing has come of it yet," Blacksmith told CBC News on Thursday.
"We were ready to do that. We're going to fight for our people until things get settled."
The Manitoba government says it is talking with the First Nations involved with the smoke shop.