The Contraband Tobacco Trade

borderOn March 4, 2014, the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC convened representatives from federal government departments on both sides of the border, media, think tanks, First Nations leaders, the business community and subject-matter experts for a panel discussion on the problem of cross-border smuggling and border vulnerabilities on tribal lands in the St. Lawrence corridor.

The discussion, chaired by Laura Dawson, examined cross-border contraband smuggling in the St. Lawrence corridor and the implications for Canada-U.S. relations, as well as the broader implications for national, bi-national, and global security.  Expert panelists included: Rear Admiral Michael Parks (ret.); Chief Brian David and Chief Steve Thomas of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne; Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Matt King; and Samuel Shear of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.  To view video commentary with some of the panelists, click here.

The key messages from the discussion included:

  • The Akewsasne region has unique geographic and jurisdictional challenges that need to be taken into account in any effort to reduce the illicit tobacco trade through the region
  • There are several examples of successful integrated cross-border maritime law initiatives undertaken in the region
  • The link has been established between illicit proceeds from contraband tobacco and global terrorist organizations
  • Any solution will require an unprecedented level of cooperation at the federal, state, provincial, municipal, and tribal levels.

Now that awareness around the issue has increased, the next step will be for key stakeholders to continue the discussion and focus on synchronizing priority action items.  These priorities will feed into a comprehensive approach to the problem that will reduce the incentives for illicit trade, increase the effectiveness of seizure and prosecution efforts, and generate viable and legitimate economic options for the Mohawk community in Akwesasne.

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