In a previous post – Lighting a Cigarette, Loading a Gun – I shared information on the production and sale of contraband cigarettes in Ontario and Quebec. In fact, with over 50 illegal factories across the two provinces, potentially 10,000 illegal cigarettes can be produced every minute.
For those thinking, “So what? I don’t smoke!” – Here’s why we all need to pay attention:
– The size of the illegal tobacco market in Ontario could be equivalent to 3 billion illegal cigarettes (15 million cartons).
– Estimated gross profit from illegal tobacco is $75 million dollars annually.
– The highly profitable sale of illegal cigarettes funds criminal activities, including drug and gun trafficking benefiting approximately 175 organized crime groups and gangs in Canada (nearly half of which are based in central Canada).
– Approximately 1 in 3 cigarettes purchased in Ontario are illegal, compared to an average of 1 in 10 in other provinces.
We’ve used words such as “estimated”, “potentially” and “approximately” because previously, we could only rely on high level summaries from police reports; ones that didn’t provide a wealth of detail.
But then, something changed.
Earlier this year in Montreal, Quebec provincial police, along with several local police forces, the RCMP and American authorities, conducted an international raid targeting contraband tobacco, drug trafficking and money laundering. And the results were staggering. (Source)
The operation, dubbed Project Mygale, involved about 700 police officers who searched 70 businesses and homes in and around Montreal, the Laurentians, Lanaudière, the Montérégie and the Six Nations in Ontario. 60 arrests were made, and officers confiscated:
More than 52,800 kg of tobacco, valued at $13.5 million.
More than $1.5 million in cash from illicit transactions in Canada.
Almost US $3 million in cash.
836 kg of cocaine.
21 kg of methamphetamines.
100 g of fentanyl.
15 kg of cannabis.
And for the first time, law enforcement officials weren’t using estimates or approximations. They had the cold, hard evidence in their hands.
Sadly, even though Project Mygale is considered a win, as long as there is a demand for contraband tobacco, other organized crime groups will fill the void. That’s why we have to continue the conversation; we must continue to put pressure on our governments to ensure that law enforcement organizations have the powers and resources needed to pursue these sorts of investigations.
Here’s what we can do. Learn more about the facts linking organized crime to the sale of illegal tobacco. StopIllegalTobacco.ca is a NCACT website, chock full of useful information (and some pretty startling statistics). Inform yourself, and your neighbours. You can also join the discussion on Twitter, using the hashtag #StopIllegalTobacco.
This post is sponsored by the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco. I have received compensation for my involvement in this campaign; however, all opinions on this post are strictly my own.