Nova Scotia

Halifax tobacco seizure leads to 12 people charged

More than 100 charges have been laid against 12 people associated with convenience stores in the Halifax area, after police in Nova Scotia searched five stores as part of an investigation into contraband tobacco sales.

Investigation into contraband tobacco sales started in September

During the investigation, police say they suspected Bridgeview Grocery of illegally wholesaling tobacco products to retailers and convenience stores in the Halifax Regional Municipality. (Richard Cuthbertson/CBC)

More than 100 charges have been laid against 12 people associated with convenience stores in the Halifax area, after police in Nova Scotia searched five stores as part of an investigation into contraband tobacco sales.

In September, officers began an investigation into the possible illegal wholesaling of tobacco products across the Halifax region.

During the investigation, police say they suspected Bridgeview Grocery on the Bedford Highway of illegally wholesaling tobacco products to retailers and convenience stores in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Mingyan Zhu, of Olivet Grocery in Halifax, is one of retailers charged. He told CBC News he would get his tobacco supply from wholesaler TRA Atlantic or Costco, but admitted he would get 15 to 20 cartons of cigarettes every two weeks from Bridgeview Grocery because they offered a cheap price.

"I don't know before," he said. "This is my first business."

When asked if he knew the sale of cigarettes from Bridgeview Grocery was illegal, Zhu said he had "no idea."

"If I had known, I won't buy tobacco from Bridgeview, if I had known it was illegal," he said.

'I don't know about this before'

Zhu said he has owned the business for about a year and said the previous owner told him about the good price Bridgeview offered. He said he only got Imperial Tobacco products from Bridgeview Grocery.

"It's bad. I don't know about this before," he said. "I don't want to get in trouble."

Nova Scotia RCMP said Wednesday that officers seized 74 cartons of cigarettes and wrappers from an additional 93 cartons. They said that suggests the cigarettes were removed from the packaging before they were resold.

Police allege the contraband tobacco sales were happening at 11 stores.

"In this particular case, it's not the typical contraband tobacco that's not stamped properly or bagged properly," said RCMP Insp. Glenn Lambe.

"It's product that's bought by an individual who then sells it to other individuals without a licence."

On Jan. 22, police searched three stores in Halifax and two in Lower Sackville:

  • Bridgeview Grocery, Bedford Highway
  • Villa Plaza Kwik Way, Sackville Drive
  • Kim's Convenience, Herring Cove Road
  • Cobequid Convenience, Cobequid Road
  • Bluenose Convenience, Halifax

In addition to Zhu, 11 others from Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford and Middle Sackville are facing a combined 116 charges of purchasing, transporting or possessing contraband tobacco.

'Undermines the whole regime'

George Israel, of Israel Grocery in Halifax, is also charged. He said when his regular order of Imperial Tobacco products did not arrive earlier this month, he asked a fellow shop owner if he could "borrow" a few cartons of cigarettes until the order came in.

Store owner George Israel says he only borrowed five cartons of cigarettes from a fellow shop owner when his own order didn't come in. (CBC)

"He was good enough," he said. "I borrow five cartons, no money changed, no nothing, I just borrow and I bring them back to the store and I guess the store was under RCMP surveillance."

Bernie Meagher, the director of Audit and Enforcement with Service Nova Scotia, said illegal wholesalers undermine the entire system.

"We had retailers that were not buying tobacco from a licensed wholesaler and that undermines the whole regime that we have in the province that insures there is only licensed wholesalers that are responsible for collecting the taxes and they sell the tobacco to retailers," he said.

'Zero tolerance and no sympathy'

The accused range in age from 21 to 60 and are all scheduled to appear in court on March 30.

Police say the people charged are associated with:

  • Bridgeview Grocery, Bedford Highway
  • Villa Plaza Kwik Way, Sackville Drive
  • Kim's Convenience, Herring Cove Road
  • Cobequid Convenience, Cobequid Road
  • Bluenose Convenience, Halifax
  • Jebaily's and Cook's Convenience, Halifax
  • Israel Convenience Store, Almon Street
  • Nova Grocery, Birmingham Street
  • SNAXX Convenience, Upper Water Street
  • Olivet Grocery, Olivet Street

Under the Revenue Act, vendors aren't allowed to buy, sell or transport more than five cartons of tobacco unless it's bought from a legitimate wholesaler.

The Atlantic Convenience Stores Association said Wednesday they were full support of the seizures and arrests, saying the sale of illegal tobacco in Nova Scotia is a key issue for the association because of the economic harm it does to honest retailers.

President Mike Hammoud said there are about 985 convenience store locations in Nova Scotia.

"The vast, vast majority are law abiding, responsible retailers," he said. "As an association we have zero tolerance and no sympathy for retailers who engage in the illegal sale of restricted products."

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