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New policing powers sought to fight illegal cigarette trade

By Randy Thoms May 11, 2023 | 1:28 PM

Shipment of illegal cigarettes seized by OPP in the Dryden area in 2020. Supplied OPP photo

The NDP is putting forward a bill to give stronger powers to police to help stem the illegal cigarette trade.

If passed, police could enforce certain aspects of the Tobacco Tax Act, including the right to search a vehicle for contraband tobacco.

Currently, authorization is first needed from the Ministry of Finance.

“We are the only province, Ontario, where it is the Ministry of Finance who is responsible for enforcement of transportation of contraband cigarettes. This does not make any sense,” says NDP Health Critic France Gelinas.

Gelinas says police are on the front lines and better equipped to deal with contraband found during a traffic stop.

“The little change that we are making could help to make sure that we go at the heart of the problem of contraband tobacco becoming available cheaply to our kids, who then become addicted to nicotine, who then smoke,” says Gelinas.

The National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco is supporting the Private Member’s bill.

Executive Director Rick Barnum says they have found the illegal cigarette trade to be a provincewide problem and growing.

“For years, the government has ignored this issue and allowed it to flourish. Today, one in three cigarettes sold in Ontario is illegal. In communities in northern Ontario, contraband tobacco rates are as high as 70% of the market,” says Barnum.

Barnum would also like to see the province’s current enforcement team bolstered and a program that supports regional and municipal police investigations.

He predicts the measures would help reduce the illegal cigarette trade by 50 per cent and recoup millions of dollars in lost revenue.

He adds the task now falls a small number of Ministry investigators.

“I’m not at all criticizing those individuals, but you have a few dozen that do that work across the entire province. I’m not sure of the exact number, but we have over 25,000 police officers out there in the province that are working every day. So the chance to be more successful in the fight against organized crime and to stop contraband tobacco sales across our entire country and across the province is greatly enhanced by the passing of this legislation,” says Barnum.



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