APTN National News
EDMONTON-Alberta authorities have charged the embattled chief of an Alberta First Nation and the president of a Kahnawake-based tobacco company in connection with the seizure of 16 million cigarettes on the Montana First Nation reserve earlier this year.
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission announced four people have been charged in connection with the seizure.
Montana First Nation Chief Carolyn Buffalo and Robbie Dickson, president of Rainbow Tobacco, each face charges of allegedly storing cigarettes not marked for sale in Alberta and for allegedly being in possession of more than 1,000 cigarettes.
Dickson is also charged with allegedly importing cigarettes without a license into Alberta.
All the charges were laid under the Alberta Tobacco Act.
Alberta authorities along with the RCMP raided a storage building on Montana First Nation in early January, seizing almost 16 million cigarettes allegedly shipped in from Rainbow Tobacco. Authorities claimed the seizured represented about $3 million in lost tax revenue to the oil-rich province.
Authorities were alerted to the cigarette shipment after Buffalo called police to the site to investigate a reported break and enter. Several cartons of cigarettes were allegedly stolen from the storage building.
The RCMP officers noticed the large shipment of cigarettes and tipped Alberta authorities.
When reached by APTN, Dickson referred calls to his lawyer. He said the charges were “bullshit.”
Dickson has said the Rainbow Tobacco believes it has a constitutional right to ship tobacco products between First Nations reserves. He told APTN he was ready to take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Rainbow Tobacco pays hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in federal excise tax on their cigarettes.
The seized cigarettes had “Canada Duty Paid” markings.
Buffalo could not be immediately reached for comment. Buffalo has faced persitant internal opposition as a result of the seizure, and nearly lost her position.
Dickson’s Edmonton lawyer Chady Moustarah said he could not immediately comment on the seizure.
Two other people were also charged.
Jason Lucas, of Edmonton, was charged importing cigarettes into the province without a license. A spokesperson for the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission alleged Lucas was involved in bringing the cigarette shipment to Montana.
Dwayne Ouimet, was also charged with importing cigarettes without a license, storing tobacco products not marked for sale in Alberta and for being in possession of more than 1,000 cigarettes.
A commission spokesperson said Ouimet is from Kahnawake and is “with Rainbow Tobacco.”
A court date is tentatively set for June 23 in Wetaskiwin, Alta.
Rainbow Tobacco and Montana First Nation have also launched a lawsuit against Alberta over the seizure claiming $1.499 million in damages for lost business and defamation.
Buffalo has said she viewed the tobacco industry as a short-cut to kick starting the economy in her impoverished community.