Published online at GlobalTVEdmonton.com on January 13, 2011.
Linda Hoang, Karyn Mulcahy, Global News: Wednesday, January 13, 2011
Company threatens legal action if seized cigarettes aren’t returned
Rainbow Tobacco is demanding that 75,000 cartons of seized cigarettes be returned, or they will take the province to court.
The company made the statement at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
Band members of the Montana First Nation met with Rainbow Tobacco for the first time Wednesday night after 14 million cigarettes were seized from the reserve earlier this month.
The cigarettes were seized on the Montana First Nation in Hobbema on on Jan. 5 because they were not properly marked for sale in Alberta, a violation of the provincial Tobacco Tax Act.
The meeting lasted four hours with speakers from the tobacco company along with Montana First Nation chief Carolyn Buffalo.
Last week, Buffalo was suspended without pay after the band learned of her role in storing the cigarettes. On Thursday she stated that she is still the chief of the Montana First Nation, and that she still speaks for the people.
Both Buffalo and the Mohawks from Guhnahwageh First Nation in Quebec, home to Rainbow Tobacco, argued they had done nothing wrong in storing the cigarettes.
They said their intent was to distribute the cigarettes among First Nations and the cartons were marked properly under federal law.
“In our eyes the province has committed the crime here in the eyes of the federal gov’t,” said Rob Dickson, CEO of Rainbow Tobacco. “Everything we are doing is legal and legitimate and we’re going to continue, we’re going to continue on with our project.”
“If in fact their instruction to me is that this matter be litigated then there will be a claimant against the alberta government and there will be a demand for the return of the tobacco that was seized on the basis that it was unlawfully seized,” said Chady Moustarah, counsel for Buffalo.
Both RCMP and the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission are investigating.
They maintain the cigarettes were not marked for sale here and that Rainbow Tobacco is not licensed to distribute in Alberta.
The cigarettes are believed to be worth $3 million in lost tax revenue to the province.
The incident was the largest illegal tobacco seizure in Alberta’s history.