The extent of smuggling activity at the border is not really known. Government estimates suggest that $2.5 billion is lost every year in Canada in tax revenue from contraband cigarettes. Most of this revenue (between $1 billion and $1.5 billion) is lost in Ontario and Quebec. In 2009, more than 2 million units of ecstasy and nearly 80,000 pounds of marijuana and were seized in this region. Illicit weapons are regularly seized at the Cornwall border.
Despite the magnitude of the problem in economic terms, it is still framed in Canada as a local crime issue. However, implicated in this trade are groups involved in international organized crime and terrorist activities. Criminal organizations are exploiting traditional First Nations legal and territorial rights in this region.
In the Cornwall area, the boundaries of seven jurisdictions (two countries, two Aboriginal groups, two provinces and one state) come together. This makes it an ideal route for high-value illicit trade that is extremely difficult to monitor and control.
For most of the region, the Seaway is the dividing line between Canada and the United States and the Aboriginal lands of Mohawk Council of the Akwesasne (Canada) and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe (United States).
The study said federal authorities on both sides of the border appear to tolerate the illicit tobacco trade in favour of containing the broader criminal and security dangers that smuggling and its repression represent. On that count, current efforts have been successful.
"Tensions with the Mohawk community have been rare, confrontations largely avoided, and a fluid and effective relationship with the Mohawk police on everything but tobacco on reserve has been built," Prof. Daudelin said.
The study said a solution is possible, but will require a co-ordinated, comprehensive approach at the federal, state, provincial, municipal and First Nations level. Any roadmap for change must take into account the framework for tobacco control and taxation, the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities and the security and commercial relationship between Canada and the United States. The goal would be to reduce the incentives for illegal trade, increase the effectiveness of seizure and prosecution efforts, and help generate viable and legitimate economic options for the Mohawk community.
The study was based on data from U.S. and Canadian government sources, academic research and media reports. Data also came from a comprehensive analysis of seizures by the Canadian Border Services Agency in the 401 corridor over the past five years, and a review of Canadian judicial cases referencing illicit tobacco, trans-border crime, drugs, weapons or human smuggling.
The authors also conducted several interviews with consumers and buyers of illicit products and with current and former Canadian law enforcement officers, whose identities remain confidential.
Jean Daudelin is associate professor at Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA).
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
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