By MPP Toby Barrett
Last spring my tobacco-country constituency office in Simcoe had visits from a Guatemalan film crew as well as a documentary crew from Costa Rica. Both asked the same question: Why are our countries inundated with contraband tobacco from Ontario?
Then, in the fall I had a visit from Mexico City’s Reforma newspaper and another film crew. They were tracking the sources of Ontario-grown illegal tobacco entering Mexico after their government had increased taxes on smokes.
During the interviews, I had little to offer about the distribution channels and the identity of the players. I did have questions of my own: If containers are used to smuggle local product to Latin America, what is coming back in return? How does the money change hands outside normal banking and trading relationships? What organizations are local traffickers dealing with in countries like Mexico and Guatemala? What else is being moved back and forth across borders as part of our local black market in tobacco and other products?
Ontario has a hundred-year history of tobacco farming. We will always continue to grow and market tobacco, but the economic and social dynamics of distribution seem to be ever-changing, and changing rapidly.
As a tobacco-country politician, I have repeatedly queried the Ontario government about Ontario’s black market trade, the tremendous losses in tobacco tax revenue and the involvement of organized crime.
Contraband is lucrative. Trafficking is growing more out of control – whether it be in tobacco or people, drugs, money, weapons or electronics. We continue to live in a dangerous world, with dangerous people always looking for financing. And given recent trends involving international players – the future in Ontario could be foreboding.
For our society to get in front of this, I am proposing legislation to strike a time-limited commission to gather information from all sources. The goal is to use this knowledge to better prepare Ontario for what may be coming down the road.
The proposed commission would conduct an extensive review of international literature, including both published and unpublished papers, as well as an examination and assessment of existing laws, law enforcement and intelligence methods used in Ontario and beyond. The commission would be granted powers under the Public Inquiries Act – however the goal is to gather information, not conduct an inquisition.
To adequately examine the phenomenon of trafficking and the black market within the context of a changing world, the commission will rely not only on the information and opinions of scientists and experts, but also on the candid opinions, attitudes and experiences of knowledgeable individuals in many parts of Ontario and beyond. It will recommend solutions to reduce the scope of the problem with respect to black market activity and trafficking.
My legislation mandates the commission to be time limited – to make an interim report in six months and a final report in 12 months. The final report will be made public within 10 days after it is submitted to the Lieutenant Governor.
I continue to welcome input and suggestions at [email protected]
Ontario cannot ignore the expanding domestic and international trafficking network of people, drugs, money, tobacco and weapons. Existing legal, institutional and societal structures seem ill-prepared to address this phenomenon – hence, in my view, the need for a researched strategy and plan of action.