By April Lawrence
Two Hawks Tobacco is a small family run smoke shop located on the Tyendinaga reserve.
Shawn Brant co-owns and operates Two Hawks with his son. They each clock about 50 hours per week. The profit from the shop feeds three families.
But Ottawa doesn’t see it that way. The federal government is creating a 50-officer RCMP force that will be cracking down on contraband cigarettes.
Corporal Laurence Trottier Media Relations Officer for the RCMP wrote in an email that the force will aim to bolster organized crime investigation capacity in the Central St. Lawrence Seaway. This is to target organized crime smuggling across the border. Unscrupulous tobacco growers and illicit manufacturers in Southwestern Ontario will be targeted.
“There’s a lot of stores and a lot of competition and it’s not something that’s incredibly lucrative as people might otherwise think, it’s tough work,” said Brant.
Brant receives his product from approximately 35 different manufacturers some of which are in Akwesasne a Mohawk community which straddles the Canada-U.S. border which the government is concerned about.
Mohawks are the original cultivators of tobacco products and introduced them into the European market.
“We’re like any other retail business that sells cigarettes or other convenience items,” said Brant.
The government is also introducing a bill that will introduce a minimum sentence for repeat offenders.
“The government has been working diligently for the past 20 years to target the tobacco trade as specifically as it pertains to Mohawk people,” said Brant.
Members of the community think it’s irresponsible for the government to put that kind of effort into the cigarettes.
“A cigarette is nothing compared to some of the stuff that is going on in society today,” said Debby Seymour, a member of the community.
“I find it unacceptable and irresponsible that this government would commit funds to targeting an aspect of our economy that provides hope and opportunity,” said Brant. “When it won’t provide those same revenues and attention and funds towards our murdered and missing women or clean drinking water in our community.”
The cigarettes sold are made by Mohawk manufacturers to be sold in Mohawk communities. This means that the products are not taxed by the government and is why they are considered to be contraband cigarettes.