February 7, 2001Was the RCMP directed to go easy on companies involved in the tobacco black market? Health groups want to know.
(Ottawa) -- Two national tobacco control agencies are asking the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP to investigate the failure of the RCMP to lay charges against any senior tobacco industry officials with respect to the smuggling of more than 30 billion cigarettes into Canada between 1990 and 1994.
Seven years ago Canadian tobacco taxes were rolled back. RCMP resources to investigate tobacco smuggling were doubled. Seven long years have passed, but no Canadian tobacco company has yet been charged with criminal offences. Yet there are mountains of evidence on the public record pointing to outrageous tobacco company malfeasance in orchestrating smuggling into Canada.
Francis Thompson of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association expressed hope that the Complaints Commission could uncover the reasons why no tobacco companies have been brought to justice in Canada for smuggling cigarettes. "The RCMP and other public enforcement agencies have spent seven years and millions of dollars investigating cigarette smuggling,” Thompson said. “So far they’ve come up virtually empty-handed. Reasonable Canadians are losing faith in the criminal justice system, and losing hope that cigarette prices can be restored to levels which protect their children's health."
Neil Collishaw of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada expects the Commission to investigate why charges have not been laid. "Either the companies are innocent, the police are inept or the investigations have been interfered with," he suggested. "Whatever the explanation, Canadians are entitled to know why such a serious crime has gone unsolved for so long."
The health agencies noted that the federal government felt that it had sufficient evidence to launch a civil suit against the companies under the U.S. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, but has not filed criminal charges. As prosecutors usually only lay criminal charges on the advice of the RCMP, it is not clear whether the RCMP has failed to recommend that charges be laid, or whether their advice has been over-ruled. The public complaints commission is one of the few agencies with the mandate to investigate this matter.
"The Complaints Commission is currently examining whether the RCMP was under political pressure to use excessive force against APEC demonstrators," Collishaw pointed out. "We think it is reasonable to ask whether the RCMP was under political pressure to use insufficient force when investigating the actions of tobacco company officials closely affiliated with parties in power."
Thompson and Collishaw are asking the Commission to investigate several factors which could have contributed to the silence of the RCMP on this important file, including the potential of political interference, diversion of resources intended to investigate cigarette smuggling into other areas of RCMP activities, or cronyism between investigators and retired senior RCMP officers who currently work for tobacco companies.
"Billions of dollars and millions of lives were affected by these crimes," said Neil Collishaw. "Canadians are owed justice -- in the meantime they are entitled to an explanation."
Chronology of Smuggling (pdf format)