Thursday, 27 February 2014

Bill C-10, Contraband Tobacco Products, and the Six Nations Lifestyle

Updated 3 March 2014 - This subject is very difficult.  I can certainly see both sides to the issue.  On the one hand I have seen families on the Six Nations Reserve go from living in a log house (circa 1850) or tar paper shanty accessed by two ruts that made a lane way, to residing in two story homes with a swimming pool, and a new high lift Ford 2500 perched on the semi circular asphalt driveway leading to the home.  This is all to the good, and it speaks well that they found a way to take their families from penury to relative luxury in one generation.  Of course there is a downside, and it simply cannot be, nor will it be, ignored.  The means by which many pulled off this feat was by engaging in the illicit cigarette trade, which is now in immanent danger of collapsing and causing wide spread problems at Six Nations. 

If someone from say Toronto, with no concept of what a Reserve "looks like", visited Six Nations they would probably be struck by one feature on the landscape seen nowhere else - the cigarette "shop" (known locally as "shacks" or "huts").  These structures are seen along all major roads on the Reserve.  Perhaps the "best" example at Six Nations is Highway 54 between Middleport and Onondaga where the shops stand cheek by jowl, with somewhat tacky names (in some cases rather clever), and will sell Native and non-Native people pre-packaged with names such as "Putters" and "Sago" or "rollies"(for those who don't mind their cigarettes in a bag).  I intensely disliked these smoke huts going up around my place, they were an eyesore and a nuisance, but that is beside the point - there was more wealth locally, and this was a plus.  However, these establishments are entirely unregulated, and there is plenty of evidence that if a White youth wants to purchase cigarettes, there are "huts" where they will not be turned away.  The owners or managers of these shops are selling cigarettes that do not follow the same path as cigarettes sold at any urban establishment, and are technically an illegal product.  The tobacco anyone can purchase on the Rez has had few if any taxes applied before the arrival at the "hut", and retailers on the Reserve do not charge taxes to the customer. 

As with gasoline, there is some justification in the tax laws that would allow the selling untaxed product on the Reserve to those with a Native status card.  However, on the Reserve those who sell gasoline generally sell non-Natives their product with taxes added.  The suppliers would "turn off the tap" if retailers did not collect taxes.  So cigarettes, which are much more "portable" and easily smuggled in say the trunk of a car, are not subject to the same restrictions. The on Reserve huts have no "reason" to charge taxes and can therefore offer their product for sale at discount prices, and as a consequence, the small convenience stores in say Caledonia or Hagersville, who are following the letter of the law, cannot compete on the basis of price - and smokers tend to gravitate to wherever they can get the product at the lowest price.  There are some establishments off Reserve but on what they might term "disputed land", generally very close to the Reserve, who ply the same trade and are not shut down by law enforcement.  Here we see the operation of local politics, the fear of Native backlash - so some individuals fly the Haudenosaunee Confederacy flag and remain in business as part of the aftermath of Caledonia 2006.  No one has yet "dared" to challenge any illegal business set up proximal to the site of the "reclamation".  The latter, as I have noted in many postings, was plain and simply the theft of land by Six Nations members and supporters which was properly registered in the Ontario Land Registry system.  The pretext was that it had not been ceded - despite irrefutable evidence that it was transferred to the Crown by the Six Nations Chiefs in Council in 1844.

I am not prepared to be entirely judgemental about the "contraband cigarette" issue, although I have every right to be.  As usual, I will simply lay out the facts, since they really do speak for themselves in this matter.  However, I do have a personal stake in this, and I can also not ignore this in my perception of the ins and outs of contraband cigarettes.  When you watch a family member die a hideous death, and you know the cause, it is very difficult to be objective about the circumstances that led to their demise.  Specifically, I recall my Grandfather as being very outgoing with coal black eyes and wavy black hair.  However what I recall most is seeing him with a beer in one hand and a cigarette between two fingers of the other hand - with fingers stained browner than his natural complexion.  Granted that he was addicted, but the sales pitches of the time only facilitated his disease.  Grandfather died of cardio-vascular disease, throat cancer, and emphysema - all without a shadow of a doubt linked to his chain smoking.  The addictive ingredient in tobacco is nicotine (more addicting than cocaine), and the delivery system is the cigarette which includes tobacco leafs containing about 400 potential carcinogens in the smoke - leaving ash as the end byproduct.  Thus to get me to see anything to do with cigarettes in a positive light just isn't going to happen.  Those involved in the trade (off Reserve and on Reserve) are in a sense "purveyors of death" - although this might be a bit harsh - it is my firmly held perspective.  It is going to be very hard to garner much sympathy when the product being sold causes human suffering and misery that touches so many families - much as is the case with alcohol - and those involved in the cocaine and heroin "industries".  The difference here is that the first two are "legal" and regulated substances, the latter two are "illegal" and unregulated substances. 

The Federal Government, as per bill C-10 which seeks to tighten up on crime, and is already in effect, has added an amendment to include a clause about contraband tobacco.  It defines contraband tobacco as, any tobacco product that does not comply with the relevant federal and provincial statutes.  Importing, stamping, marking, manufacturing, distributing, and paying duties and taxes on such products that are regulated ............  The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), who are the enforcement wing of the Federal Government, have a more specific definition based on the above definition.  Basically they are concerned with counterfeiting, smuggling, illegal manufacturing in Canada, and products for which duties and taxes have not been paid.  It has passed the second reading in the House of Commons, and must pass the third reading and a review by the Senate before it receives Crown assent and becomes law.

The reason for this posting is an article in Turtle Island News dated 26 February 2014 (pp.2-4) entitled, Bill C-10 is not about fighting crime, its about destroying economies, First Nation leadership says in rejecting the bill.  This is part of a series of upcoming articles on "The Tobacco Wars".  Based on the content of this article, it seems that the possibility of the contraband cigarette business coming to an end is putting people at Six Nations into a panic - such is the reliance on tobacco products for the economic well being on the Reserve. 

The article begins by creating drama, using the rumour mill that continually grinds grist at Six Nations - "Have you heard, the OPP shut down a smoke hut this morning.  Word came shortly after, it wasn't true.  And then came the call We should shut down the roads.  Panic".  These rumours are being generated by Federal Bill C-10, which is well along the way to becoming law.  Various individuals at Six Nations made the following comments in relation to the proposed law to crack down on contraband tobacco:

1)  Bill C-10 is an attempt to destroy an economy with no legal basis.  Actually the Bill is designed to ensure that the present laws on the books have teeth such that enforcement can be assured.
2)  Any of the bills Canada or Ontario have, have no bearing or impact on the Haudenosaunee.  Actually that is completely false.  Canada has the right and obligation to enact and enforce laws which apply equally to all.
3)  We [Six Nations] do not have any treaty agreements or relationship with Canada or Ontario.  This is true, there are no treaties involving Six Nations (aboriginal to Upstate New York) and the Federal or Provincial Governments.
4)  Our treaties are pre-Confederation treaties.  In fact there are no true treaties between Six Nations and the Crown of Great Britain, only the fraudulent "Nanfan Treaty" of 1701 which has more holes than Swiss cheeze and about which I have blogged many times.
5)  This is an attempt to dissolve Haudenosaunee treaty rights and economies in order for them to gain control of our people.  Wow, where would I start in commenting on this wild allegation - I won't bother.  The words "misattribution" and "paranoia" come to mind.
6)  Its more akin to ethnic cleansing or genocide.  Now this is simply so far off the wall .......... I wonder how many people actually believe this.  True genocide is what the Six Nations perpetrated on the Huron / Wyandot, Petun, Attiwanderonk, Erie and Wenro peoples between 1640 and 1657 with the murder of men, women and children in the (successful) attempt to wipe these people, aboriginal to Southern Ontario and adjacent regions, off the map.  The Government of Canada enacting legislation to regulate tobacco products being labelled "genocide" should not go unchallenged.
7)  It is an act of terrorism on our people and an activity of economic oppression.  Clearly these interpretations are irrational, and words such as terrorism and genocide in no way, shape or form fit the intention of the Bill.  If the Government "dares" to put forward laws that stop illegal activity, it is a strange interpretation to twist things into some sort of evil nefarious sneaky plan whose real intent is to destroy Six Nations.  The phrases used are dripping in strong emotive terms designed to rally the troops around what is perceived as a "just cause" to protect against a vindictive White government with hidden motives.  Anyone with intact critical thinking skills is going to question statements of this nature.
8)  If this industry is to be stopped what is Canada going to do about the hundreds of people that would be unemployed or businesses that would go under.  Why would this be the responsibility of the Canadian Government?  In reality, Six Nations has known since day one that they were involved in illegal activities, and for years they have capitalized on this industry knowing that at any time would have the rug pulled out from under it.  Well, that time is now.  To expect some sort or "rescue" from the Canadian taxpayers for defying the law for 30 or more years, and getting away with it, makes absolutely no sense.  Clearly Six Nations councils (elected and hereditary) should have seen the writing on the wall and pushed for diversification on the local economy.  This would involve more working off Reserve at for example what we term the "gyp plant" (Canadian Gypsum north of Hagersville), and other such places of employment.  There are also entrepreneurial opportunities which have been encouraged by the Federal Government - but you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
9)  The government never had a hand in helping us to get out of the situation they put us in.  One of poverty, abuse they created.  So we are to play the blame game?  How about the concept of personal responsibility.  The government has doled out billions upon billions of dollars that have often simply vanished.  Where is the accountability?  Why should the Canadian taxpayer send more money down a bottomless pit, when it is never enough and they have been slapped across the face for "racism" and "genocide" and other concocted unsubstantiated allegations - and Six Nations are not even aboriginal to the lands they possess (the Mississauga possess that valid claim)?
10)  We are our own nation and no outside government has control over us.  Here we run into the time honoured sovereignty issue - which has consistently been established as without a shadow of any question from historical times or today - Six Nations were and are subjects of the Crown.  Only the Crown has sovereignty in Canada - all of the Court cases over all of the years from prior to the American Revolution to today have ruled in favour of Crown (and thus Canadian) sovereignty over the territory it claims.  There are no "nations within nations" except in the minds of some people.
11)  This [Bill C-10] could have serious impacts by criminalizing our people for transporting tobacco products.  This is true, but existing laws criminalize the transport of contraband cigarettes.  In some ways Bill C-10 is nothing new.
12)  There has been a, "complete lack of consultation with Iroquois people on the proposed bill".  I am not sure why it is perceived that the Federal Government should be consulting any party who is involved in an illegal activity.

This whole perspective speaks of the concept of "entitlement".  Somehow Six Nations should be exempt from the laws that apply to other Canadians, and have a right to engage in smuggling cigarettes from the USA, manufacturing them in Canada and the like without any interference by the Canadian Government or others.  It is common knowledge that the smuggling corridor funnels through Akwesasne, a Mohawk Reserve perched on the Canadian and US (New York) borders, as well as the Quebec and Ontario borders.  Rather an "ideal" geographic situation for smuggling to occur.  Boats, trucks and maybe airplanes have used this route for generation now to get unstamped product (largely cigarettes) into Canada and to the retail or manufacturing plants on local Reserves.

While laws have always allowed the RCMP to enforce violations of the Excise Act in the criminal code of Canada, the illegal actions are poorly defined.  So Bill C-10 will make it very clear what constitutes "contraband tobacco" and also allow other police agencies such as the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Six Nations Police to enforce the new law.  Of course the law enforcement agencies can do a diligent job, but if the penalties are weak, then there is every likelihood that the perpetrators will see the fines as a slap on the wrist and the price of doing business.  Definitions of an indictment and a summary conviction are provided.  Mandatory minimum sentences will be in place (e.g., for being in possession of 10,000 cigarettes or more with the intent to sell), but for the first offence it will not be applied.  The law really only applies with any weight to repeat offenders and how much of a deterrent it is is debatable - 180 days jail time for a third offence, and two years less a day for the fourth and subsequent offences.

So with Bill C-10 is it simply time to pay the piper, or is it an act of "genocide"?  I am sure readers without any vested interest can judge for themselves.  There is no doubt that if the Bill C-10 amendment goes into effect, it will be disruptive to Six Nations.  That is indeed sad.  However, it is not as if this should come as any surprise.  All along those who have participated in the contraband cigarette trade have known it was illegal and that they were living on borrowed time.  Thus it may be time to shift gears and find a less controversial way of making a living.  How resilient are Six Nations?  Are we looking at escalating civil disobedience such as the highly creative measure of blocking roads?  If so Six Nations will soon find that there is no support for the purveyors of death, and trying to "inconvenience" Canadians will surely backfire under these circumstances.

If the "big picture" is viewed, we will see that this illegal activity has been allowed to flourish for over 30 years without any sort of government intervention.  So the law says one thing, and the behaviour of those whose responsibility it is to enforce the law says something else.  By not dropping the hammer early on, the government and law enforcement have given a tacit "go ahead" to those at Six Nations to participate in the contraband cigarette trade.  Thus whole families, and the Community, have come to depend on this activity as a key part of the economy.  So in all fairness, it seems to me that perhaps there should be a "grandfather clause" that allows those already "in the business" to continue with the status quo.  On the other hand, the law is the law.  This is clearly a very problematic situation that could have been avoided by "cracking down" from the git go - but that didn't happen - so somehow it does not seem fair to make people at Six Nations pay for government "wheel spinning" and "heel dragging" - unless they once again use local people as pawns in a dispute with Ottawa, then all sympathy (at least from myself) would evapourate.

DeYo.

6 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Hi Tony, did you wish to comment on this particular posting? Best, DeYo.

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  2. Have you seen the latest from Karl Dockstader on the Niagara At Large site?

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    Replies
    1. Hello Tony,

      Yes, I read it. I address this issue in my most resent posting on the arrest of Shawn Brant. DeYo.

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