Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise in my place today and speak to this legislation. I would like to thank my colleague the member of Parliament for Barrie for sharing his time with me, for his excellent speech and for his support of the bill.
I rise to speak in favour of Bill S-16, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in contraband tobacco). This enactment proposes amendments to the Criminal Code to create new offences for trafficking in contraband tobacco and to provide minimum penalties of imprisonment for persons who are convicted of a second or a subsequent time for this offence.
This legislation would prohibit possession for the purpose of sale or offer to sale, the transportation of or the delivery or distribution of a tobacco product or raw leaf tobacco that is not packaged, unless it is officially stamped. The terms “tobacco product”, “raw leaf tobacco”, “packaged” and “stamped” have the same meanings as in section 2 of the Excise Act, 2001.
The maximum penalty for a first offence would be up to six months' imprisonment on summary conviction and up to five years' imprisonment if prosecuted by way of indictment. Repeat offenders convicted of this new offence in cases involving 10,000 cigarettes or more, 10 kilograms or more of any other tobacco product, or 10 kilograms or more of raw leaf tobacco would be sentenced to a minimum of 90 days on second conviction, a minimum of 180 days on a third conviction and a minimum of two years less a day on all subsequent convictions.
Overall, the proposals represent a tailored approach to the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for serious contraband tobacco activities. The bill proposes mandatory minimum penalties only in cases where there are certain aggravating factors present.
Trafficking in contraband tobacco is a serious problem that requires serious remedies. As some members will recall, a contraband tobacco market became a significant issue in Canada in the late 1980s. During that period, more and more legally manufactured Canadian cigarettes destined for the duty-free market began making their way back into the Canadian underground economy. The high retail price of legitimate cigarettes made the smuggling of cigarettes across the border a striving and lucrative illicit business.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian customs seized large quantities of contraband tobacco. The RCMP was also engaged in investigating this illegal activity at its source. These investigations eventually led to several tobacco companies having to pay more than $1.5 billion in criminal fines and civil restitution.
While this type of smuggling activity largely has subsided, the illicit tobacco market in Canada has rebounded in recent years, involving contraband tobacco that is primarily connected not to the diversion of legally manufactured products but to the illegal manufacture, distribution and selling of contraband tobacco products. It also includes to a lesser degree the illegal importation of counterfeit cigarettes and other forms of illicit tobacco from abroad.
Organized crime groups play a central role in the contraband tobacco trade in Canada, and this means that this illegal activity is linked with other kinds of crime. Most of the organized crime gangs that are involved in the illicit tobacco market are also active in other forms of criminal behaviour.
The problem is further complicated and exacerbated by the fact that some of the illegal manufacturers that supply the Canadian market are on the U.S. side of the Akwesasne Mohawk territory, which spans the border between Quebec, Ontario and New York state.
Members should know that transnational crime of the type found in contraband tobacco smuggling is considered a threat to public safety and national security and has a direct impact on individual Canadian businesses and our economy. It also has implications for relationships with our international partners, especially the United States. In this regard, however, Canada and the U.S. share a long history of law enforcement co-operation across our shared border.
Contraband tobacco is driven largely by illegal operations on both sides of the border. The provinces of Ontario and Quebec have the highest concentration of contraband tobacco manufacturing operations, the majority of high volume smuggling points and the largest number of consumers of contraband tobacco.
Criminal organizations are motivated by the lure of significant profits and relatively low risks in this sphere of illegal activity. Enforcement actions are, therefore, directed at increasing the risks associated with contraband tobacco activities: dismantling illegal manufacturing facilities, disrupting distribution supply lines, apprehending key figures and individuals, confiscating conveyances such as trucks and boats, and seizing the proceeds of crime. These actions have the dual goals of disrupting the illicit flow of tobacco and weakening the organized crime groups involved in the production, distribution, smuggling and trafficking of contraband tobacco.
To achieve these goals, the RCMP has engaged in joint targeted initiatives with law enforcement partners and other stakeholders across Canada and even, as mentioned earlier, internationally. These initiatives, varying in their degree of complexity, include short- and long-term joint investigations, outreach and awareness campaigns and active participation in inter-agency contraband tobacco task forces and groups. Unfortunately, contraband tobacco remains a serious threat to our communities, and if left unchecked, organized crime will continue to profit at the expense of the health and safety of Canadians.
Recent intelligence indicates a rise in counterfeit tobacco products entering the Canadian market. These illegal products are then transported through nationwide networks for sale to consumers as a cheaper alternative to legitimate tobacco products, thereby making them more accessible to Canadian youth.
Protecting society from criminals is a responsibility our government takes very seriously. Overall, the proposals represent a tailored approach to the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for serious contraband tobacco activities. This bill proposes minimum penalties only in cases where there are certain aggravating factors present.
This bill is part of the government's continued commitment to take steps to protect Canadians and to make our streets and communities safer. Canadians want a justice system that has clear and strong laws that denounce and deter serious crimes, including illicit activities involving contraband tobacco. They want laws that impose penalties that adequately reflect the serious nature of these crimes, and this bill would achieve that.
I encourage all of my colleagues and members on each side of the House to fully support Bill C-16. It is high time we made this the law of the land.