The RCMP say they are cracking down on a booming cigarette industry based on the aboriginal reserve spanning the St. Lawrence River that they allege supplies most of the illegal cigarettes in Canada.
"The majority of contraband tobacco seized by the RCMP from B.C. to Newfoundland do come from the American side of the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory," Sgt. Michael Harvey said Thursday as the RCMP prepared to dispose of enough tobacco to make 3.7 million cigarettes, seized from the reserve straddling the borders of Quebec, Ontario and New York state.
Harvey alleged that 90 per cent of illegal cigarettes sold in Canada — mostly in Central Canada —come from Akwesasne, and police are now seizing in one week the number of cigarettes that they used to confiscate in a month.
"The Canadian people think that they're saving tax dollars by buying these illicit tobacco, but in fact, they're financing organized crime groups that are using the geography of our border to move illegal products back and forth and then to financially gain from the sale of this illicit project," Harvey said. "It is a public safety issue."
On Thursday, the RCMP invited CBC News to the Cornwall dump to watch as they crushed and buried $400,000 worth of cigarillos, cartons of cigarettes, and garbage bags of fine-cut tobacco.
Harvey said about 105 organized crime groups are involved in manufacturing the cigarettes, and many use the proceeds from illegal tobacco to fund other activities. Right now, police are trying to target the groups' leaders, but they can't ignore the loads of cigarettes that cross the St. Lawrence River by the boatload, he said.