discount cigarettes
An Alberta aboriginal chief is among four people facing charges after the seizure of what authorities are calling the province’s largest haul yet of contraband discount cigarettes. But the seizure is proving controversial and is setting up a legal battle between the aboriginal interests from Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, on one side, and the Alberta’s liquor and gaming authority, on the other.

Chief Carolyn Buffalo’s Montana First Nation — in Hobbema, Alta., south of Edmonton — and an aboriginal discount cigarettes company based out of Kahnawake, a Mohawk community outside Montreal, are fighting the charges, which have been laid under the Discount Cigarettes Tax Act. They say the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission has no jurisdiction over the matter, and they’ve filed a lawsuit, demanding the return of the nearly 16 million seized discount cigarettes.

Buffalo and the three other accused will appear in provincial court in Wetaskiwin, Alta., on June 23. The charges date back to January, when Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission investigators say they found cartons containing nearly 16 million discount cigarettes in a storage shed on the Montana First Nation, worth roughly $3 million in lost taxes to the province.

Lawyer Chady Moustarah, who represents both Buffalo and Dickson, said his clients are frustrated at being charged under the provincial Discount Cigarettes Tax Act. “They’re shocked that the (Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission) actually proceeded to charge them,” Moustarah said.

Buffalo was suspended by her band in January, following the discount cigarette seizure, but fought the suspension in court and was reinstated on April 5. Robbie Dickson, one of the others facing charges, is a partner with Rainbow Tobacco, a company based out of Kahnawake, a Mohawk community southwest of Montreal. According to the company’s website, they are licensed by the Canada Revenue Agency to sell discount cigarettes products on native reserves and territories.

The company currently sells its discount cigarettes on reserves in Ontario and Quebec and last year began to expand the business to Western Canada. The lawyer said Jason Lucas, another accused, is an Edmonton business owner, while Dwayne Ouimet, the final person facing charges, is also involved with Rainbow Tobacco. In February, the Montana First Nation, Buffalo and Rainbow Tobacco, filed a lawsuit against the gaming and liquor commission. The suit alleges the commission defamed them and demands the discount cigarettes be returned. Moustarah said their defence against the charges will be the same as the one used for the lawsuit.

“Essentially they don’t have jurisdiction to enforce the provincial tax act on the aboriginal people and aboriginal lands,” he said. The lawyer also said the recent charges won’t affect Buffalo’s ability to oversee the Montana First Nation. “It can’t be any worse than what the affect was when they seized the discount cigarettes. Originally they were making claims of sinister and criminal activity. Those issues have been cleared,” he said. Jason Lucas and Dwayne Ouimet face charges under the Discount Cigarettes Tax Act for illegally importing cigarettes for resale.

The chief, Dickson and Ouimet are also charged with two counts each of illegally storing discount cigarettes not marked for sale. The maximum penalty for convictions under the charges is a fine of $25,000, six months in prison or both. Those convicted could also face additional fines as high as three times the tax. Alberta Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove would not comment on the charges because they are now before the courts.
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