There is a booming black market for illegal cigarettes in Manitoba, as shown by the seizures of nearly two million contraband smokes within the past eight months.
Two brothers who were arrested in February for cigarette smuggling were found again in September with more illegal smokes, according to court documents obtained by CBC News.
In the Feb. 2 raid, RCMP and Manitoba Finance investigators seized 1.45 million contraband cigarettes and more than $415,000 in cash from a farm in the Rural Municipality of Rosser, located just outside Winnipeg.
The brothers, who are in their late 60s, were charged with possession of illegal cigarettes and tax evasion, as well as numerous weapons charges.
But later, a tip to investigators alleged the two men were still smuggling cigarettes.
Police and finance officials re-arrested the pair in September, after finding them with another stash of 500,000 cigarettes in a railway container on Logan Avenue.
Now, Manitoba Justice officials have gone to court to seize the $415,000 that was found in the February raid, along with some vehicles, according to court documents.
Smokes coming from First Nations
The sale of untaxed tobacco products is illegal in Manitoba, and those who are found to possess cigarettes that don't bear the proper provincial excise stamps could face stiff fines or jail time, the RCMP warned on Tuesday.
The contraband cigarettes in this case have been coming from First Nations in southern Ontario, according to court documents.
Andrew Klukas of the Western Convenience Store Association said the sale of contraband cigarettes can put small businesses out of business.
"When you are competing with sellers who needn't charge all of the taxes on tobacco, you simply cannot compete," he said.
"It reduces the flow of customers into the store and reduces the sale of other goods — nutritional products, food, bread, milk, that sort of thing."
Nearly 2,500 small convenience stores in Ontario and Quebec have shut down because of contraband cigarette sales, Klukas said.