Thursday, 14 November 2013

Smoke Shops and a Burger Stand - Illegalities and a Double Standard

The subject of this blog is one that, as with the record collections at the National Archives (Library and Archives Canada), I have a lot of direct personal knowledge.  I will begin by a short rendition of my gradual introduction of what was to become a fixture of the landscape in my home area, the "smoke shack". 

The Cigarette "Business":  Certainly, by the 1980s it was common knowledge that there was a "smuggling problem" along the St. Lawrence River.  Nothing new, it has been used as a smuggling route between the U.S.A. and Canada since the War of 1812.  Where there is a buck to be made, then people are going to see what they can get away with - especially if the payoff is large.  This was the case of the untaxed cigarettes which were making their way across the border at Cornwall Island from Akwesasne Mohawk Territory.  In Prohibition days, the "gray ghosts" would speed across Lake Erie from Port Dover to deliver their cargo of booze to waiting U.S. customers in Erie, Pennsylvania.  However with the cigarette smuggling, the trade was going in the opposite direction, then with the emergence of the Grand River Enterprises, the flow of product became a worldwide phenomenon.

There was a willing market as consumers had seen the taxes paid on tobacco products skyrocket - under the guise of trying to cause people to re-think their addiction.  Alas, people simply get more creative, and find ways around the laws they believe to be unjust.  A lot of the "product" was making its way to Six Nations and New Credit where it could be retailed at significantly lower prices.  The Federal Government did, and still does, have a "hands off" policy (or at least practise) when it comes to what goes on over on the Reserves.  In a way it was (and is) a win win situation for White consumers and Native retailers.  It was lose lose for the Government (who was losing billions in uncollected taxes), and small mom and pop stores in small towns near the Reserves such as Hagersville and Caledonia or even Jarvis and Simcoe (people were willing to travel quite a distance to save money - this in the day when gas was a dollar and change per gallon).

Generally the "shops" which sold "rollies" and other tobacco products were small wooden shacks or trailers, each with a "catchy" name and flags and signs to try and set them apart from their nearest competitors.  Back in the 1990s the shacks were scattered rather widely.  I began to notice that some of the people I knew "in the business" were building homes with swimming pools and leading a lifestyle that I could only dream about.  Obviously I was in the wrong business.  It didn't really upset me, as more wealth was pouring into the local economy, and similar justifications.  The fact that children were buying cigarettes, and that true addicts were encouraged to increase consumption due to the downward shift in prices, and that the stores in the nearby towns where we shopped for food or other essentials, was and is a serious consideration.

What really brought the problem home for me when my neighbour built one of these shacks directly across the road from my home.  Now it was personal, and I have ever since been disgusted at the mere sight of these stains or poxes on the landscape.  Needless to say, I wince when I have to take Highway 54 through Onondaga and Middleport and along Chiefswood Road into Ohsweken where the shacks are literally cheek by jowl.

In my research on this "phenomenon" I realized that it could only feed an academic interest, as I had no illusions of the shacks disappearing at any time.  As far as I was concerned they were permanent, and I just needed to learn to live with them.  Being an avid non-smoker and seeing cars coming and going, with White people making their purchases (with a twinge of guilt, I don't know), and my neighbours raking in the cash.

Relevant publications include:

1)  The illicit tobacco trade in the U.S. and how funds are diverted to the Middle East to fund terrorist groups such as Hamas and al Queda - see here.

2) The effects of contraband cigarettes in Canada - see here.

3)  RCMP's warning about illegal tobacco sales - see here.

4)  How Canadian Natives became involved in the illicit sale of tobacco - see here.

5)  The role played by Akwesasne - see here.

6)  How today the situation has changed to the manufacture of tax free cigarettes on Canadian Reserves - see here.

7)  Grand River Enterprises:  This business, the largest employer at Six Nations, is now situated on Chiefswood Road just east of Ohsweken.  It is a huge establishment, and apparently thriving.  Some sense of this firm, established in 1996 (but with roots much earlier), can be found here.  Apparently their annual revenue is over 12 million dollars, and they employ between 100 and 249 individuals - see here, however whoever did this research appears to have seriously underestimated the true figures.  Further information can be found here, particularly on the various brands and types of tobacco products they manufacture.  See the blog entry here for information about European customers. 

Apparently the company has been beset with problems with those who are counterfeiting their products, as seen here.  For the most comprehensive analysis of this business, which includes information that would directly contradict some of what is included in the previous links, see here.  Deals with the Chinese will no doubt prove most lucrative.  I have been to China, and based on simple observation, almost everyone smokes.  So there could be huge demand for GRE product in that part of the world. 

I have been unable to locate a website for the company, however they do have a Facebook page.

While Grand River Enterprises may have something of a shady past, it, after a lot of legal wrangling, has been incorporated as a Canadian company, and continues to grow with efforts that seem clearly legal, and those which are highly questionable (and at times the subject of lawsuits).  Meanwhile the primary shareholders have become multi - millionaires, and one must congratulate them for their entrepreneurial spirit - and their efforts to "give back" to Six Nations.

Caledonia Example:  Some of the smoke shacks which sell GRE (or other) products, however, have been little more than a thorn in the side of the community in which they are located.  A classic example is found at the end of Argyll Street at the south end of Caledonia, where the owners insist that the laws that apply to the rest of the community do not apply to them - despite being on off - Reserve land.  Protests by local residents have, since 2007, attempted to force the OPP to close down the shop.  In late November of that year, Gary McHale was physically assaulted by the owner of the shack - see here.  Since 2008 the Provincial Government has attempted to evict the owners of the smoke shack at the end of Argyll Street (where it joins the Highway 6 bypass) - see here.  The establishment is on Provincial land, not part of DCE but rather Hydro One land, but justified (if that is necessary) as lands never ceded.  The fact that this claim flies in the face of air tight evidence is of no concern - no one has tackled this potentially explosive issue of presenting the facts and then enforcing the law.  While the matter has been brought up in the Provincial Parliament, and promises as to actions to be taken or in the process of being taken, have been made.  Absolutely nothing whatsoever has ever been done - and the shack continues to do business defiantly but with resolve (they are not going to back down).

The smoke shack issue has been taken on as a particular cause by one local resident, Doug Fleming, who attempted, via various protests and actions, to show the hypocrisy of the entire matter.  A question asked by Mr. Fleming was, "what if I set up a smoke shop", would the OPP tolerate it as they have tolerated the illegal shops presently dotting the land?  The various events related to his efforts can be seen here

It seems then that the manufacturing and retailing of cigarettes by Six Nations is controversial, and something of a two edged sword.  No doubt it has brought wealth to Six Nations, but at what price?  My opinion of the smoke shack and related matters is that things are a whole lot better if they are confined to the areas of the Reserve which are in no way contentious - say Tuscarora Township.

Also on the Argyll Street property, a "hamburger stand" was built on the same property as the smoke shack, and there was evidence of multiple health and safety code violations that should have been addressed by a Haldimand Bylaw Officer. Complaints were registered by concerned citizens, but the word went out that any attempt to enforce the law would be met be force. So once again the belief that Six Nations are exempt from those laws meant to protect all citizens, including those at Six Nations, was pressed into service and the message was, go ahead, try to enforce the law, which now included a Court Injunction to cease and desist until proper measures could be taken to bring the establishment "up to code". "Good luck to you".

It actually took a local resident, once again, Doug Fleming, to bring the matter to a head.  On 7 July 2013 Doug read a formal complaint about, for example the lack of inspectors and permits for anything going at this site.  See video of event here.  It appears that this most recent effort at least brought the Haldimand Health Department to an awareness, and they appeared to take the matter seriously. Previously the bylaw officer refused to issue a notice of infraction to the owners without OPP backup (which was not given). So things had stalled until Mr. Fleming's efforts bore fruit. While Dr. Malcolm Lock did issue an injunction against the establishment, he and the owner entered into negotiations instead of immediate enforcement. Alas, what we have learned of late, time and time again, is that negotiations are fine, as long as the Six Nations obtain what they want. Being told what to do does not sit well, even if the requirements of adhering to the law and maintaining a safe work environment surely could not be disputed.  However this is Caledonia, so .........

If one was to be entirely objective about this situation, it should not go without notice that the violations were of those things that even common sense would dictate that something be done - these were not subtle concocted reasons. An establishment that serves food must have suitable toilet facilities (rather than staff taking a piss in the brush nearby), a place where staff can wash their hands, potable water including hot water for washing and cleaning purposes, and so on. Of course we could veer into the fact that the place was a shack, and that there was no guarantee that it would not fall in on staff or customers because it had not been inspected by a building inspector - nor was a permit issued. Yet the owner believed he had a right to behave in any way he saw fit - the law be damned. Eventually he relented somewhat, probably because the press was so negative it was bound to have an effect on business, and so he promised to comply with the Court Injunction. Promises tend to be believed, but whether there is evidence of any compliance, I do not know. As of September 2013, the business was still failed to comply with the Health Department requests, and ignored the Court Injunction (see here).   Anyway, the place and its affiliated illegal smoke shack are open for business complete with two Plains Indian TeePees on site and the Confederacy flag flying proudly (except when the wind shreds it).

The most recent information about the business at the end of Argyll Street comes from Turtle Island News, November 13, 2013, p. 7.  Here the reporter uses the headline, "Confederacy council leases land to smoke huts and burger stand, $1".  The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council of course maintains that the establishments are constructed upon are the lands, "unceded and belong to Haudenosaunee".  Haldimand County argues that the lands are, "registered in the provincial land registry".  As noted before, while a Court Injunction was issued by Justice Arrell, the matter was adjourned while the parties worked out the health - related issues with Dr. Lock.  It appears that the owners have simply ignored, once again, any compliance with health regulations and do business under the name of, "Plank Road Grill" - the rationale for non-compliance being that they are under the jurisdiction of the Confederacy.  The HCCC legal advisor, Aaron Detlor, maintains that, the underlying title is still with the HCCC and the lands are registered with HCCC's land registry system which includes all lands in the Haldimand Tract and the Nanfan Treaty area.  In my opinion, it is time to take this claim to Court - let the HCCC face the facts of the "Holmes Report".  There are still Court matters facing the owners, which will be addressed in December or January of 2014.  Hopefully at this time Justice Arrell will decide to lower the boom, and, address the false claim of Six Nations ownership of all the Haldimand Tract and all of Southwestern Ontario.


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