News releases

Health Group asks big banks to stop helping criminals sell contraband cigarettes.

(Ottawa) – February 2, 2007.    Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) is calling on Canada’s major banks to use their role as members of the board of directors of VISA Canada to stop the VISA credit system from being used to help criminals sell illegal cigarettes.

“It is bad enough that the government has failed to put in place measures to address the movement of untaxed cigarettes from reserves to Canadian communities, “said Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC).  “But for Canada’s banks to willingly participate in these illegal sales by processing them through their credit card systems further erodes the legal economy.”

On January 31st, the staff of this national health charity visited the Mohawk Territory of Tyendinaga on way to an appearance before the Ontario legislature finance committee held in nearby Belleville.  They visited several smoke-shacks on the reserve to observe compliance with laws prohibiting the sale of untaxed cigarettes to non-aboriginal Canadians.  

“We were saddened to see that the situation was as grim as had been reported to us,” said Ms. Callard. “There were dozens of boot-leg outlets offering cigarettes for 5 – 8 cents each ($10 - $15 for bags of 200 cigarettes). Many of these stores provided drive-thru convenience, and most that we visited cheerfully accepted payments by VISA."

Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada has written the chief executive officers of the seven largest financial institutions that govern VISA Canada and requested them to take immediate action to withhold VISA payment services from these illegal establishments.

The cigarettes they purchased with VISA cards will be displayed during the day on February 2, 2007 in a mock smoke-shack, erected within sight of the Prime Ministers Office and Parliament Hill.  

“Ottawa is ignoring this problem, and Bay Street is abetting it,” said Ms. Callard.




For information:              Cynthia Callard,             Executive Director
613 233 4878,.  Cell 613 850 5594


Text of letter to:

  • Mr. W. Edmund Clark, President and Chief Executive Officer
    Toronto Dominion Bank

  • Alban D'Amours,  President, Caisse Desjardins

  • Gerald T. McCaughey, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce

  • Gordon Nixon, President & CEO, Royal Bank of Canada

  • Ian Warner, Chief Operating Officer of Vancity Credit Union, Vancity Enterprises Ltd.

  • Réjean Robitaille, President, Laurentian Bank of Canada

  • Rick Waugh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Bank of Nova Scotia

Dear Sir:

I am writing you to request your immediate action to end the collaboration of the Toronto Dominion Bank and the Canadian VISA credit system in the illegal sale of untaxed cigarettes.

Yesterday I traveled to Belleville to testify before the Ontario legislature’s finance committee about the devastating impact of illegal cigarette sales on the security, economy and health of Canadian communities. On the way to the hearing, I drove through Tyendinaga and stopped at a handful of retail outlets to determine for myself how easy it was to purchase untaxed cigarettes in quantities.

I was shocked and concerned to see that, despite the illegality of these sales, and the harmful consequences of this trade, the merchants were able to process my payments through VISA.  As you will see on the attached sales receipts, no attempt was made to disguise the sale of illegal goods. At least one of the sales outlets (Smokin Joes) sold virtually nothing but cigarettes.

I am very distressed to see the involvement of Canada’s leading financial institutions in this criminal activity, especially given how transparently and unabashedly this activity is taking place.

I hope you will join with other members of VISA Canada’s board of directors to investigate and resolve this problem.

Example of a drive-thru smoke-shack on the border of Belleville and Tyendinaga