(Rainbow Tobacco president Robbie Dickson overseas an employee at this cigarette manufacturing plant in Kahnawake. APTN/Photo)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The president of a Kahnawake tobacco company facing charges in Alberta over the seizure of 16 million cigarettes from a First Nation community says he’s unfazed by the development and plans to continue a push to establish a distribution network throughout western Canadian First Nations.
Robbie Dickson, president of Rainbow Tobacco which is based in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake near Montreal, called the charges another attempt by a government to undercut First Nations attempts to spur economic growth.
“The First Nations in the three western provinces are suffering from 90 per cent unemployment and the provincial governments are…committing economic genocide by trying to prevent this endeavour,” said Dickson. “How can they have to gall to think they have the right to govern us on our territories, which are federally administered and are sovereign nations?”
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission announced Friday that four people had been charged in connection with the January seizure of nearly 16 million Rainbow Tobacco cigarettes from a storage building on the Montana First Nation near Wetaskiwin, Alta.
Montana First Nation Chief Carolyn Buffalo and Dickson 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.
Convictions could lead to millions of dollars in fines and jail time.
The case is expected to eventually reach the Supreme Court of Canada.
Buffalo said she expected the charges and planned to fight them to the end.
“It is more aggravating than anything,” said Buffalo. “It is not a surprise, nor unexpected. We knew that they had to do something.”
Buffalo said the charges show how committed the Alberta government is to subverting Aboriginal rights in the oil-rich province.
“The Alberta government is really…doing everything they can to eradicate our rights, be they treaty rights, inherent rights,” said Buffalo. “They are trying to claim as much ownership of lands and resources as theirs…they don’t care about our rights.”
The Alberta government claimed it stood to lose $3 million in tax revenue from the sale of the cigarettes.
Rainbow Tobacco, however, paid federal excise taxes on the cigarettes which were marked “Canada, Duty Paid.”
Rainbow Tobacco, which is federally licensed, pays hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to the federal government on cigarettes they produce.
Two other people were also charged.
Dwayne Ouimet, a listed partner of Rainbow Tobacco, was 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.
Jason Lucas, of Edmonton, was charged with importing cigarettes into the province without a license.
A spokesperson for the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission alleged Lucas was involved in bringing in the cigarette shipment to Montana.
Dickson said provincial governments have no grounds to interfere with trade between First Nations communities on a product that is federally licensed. The federal government is responsible for First Nations communities.
Dickson said he believed the charges came in response to a $1.449 million lawsuit launched by his company and Montana First Nation over the seizure. The lawsuit claims damages for lost business revenue and defamation.
“It is the only way they can hold on to our cigarettes,” said Dickson.
Despite the January seizure of their product, Rainbow Tobacco continued to push ahead with its plans to establish a reserve-based distribution network in western Canada spanning from Saskatchewan to British Columbia.
Dickson said two Saskatchewan First Nations are currently studying passing their own tobacco bylaws to avoid provincial taxes and sell Rainbow Tobacco products in the communities.
Dickson also gave a presentation to Alberta chiefs earlier this year.
Saskatchewan and British Columbia authorities have seized smaller Rainbow Tobacco cigarette shipments since the January raid. No charges have yet been laid in connection with those seizures.
A court date is tentatively set for June 23 in Wetaskiwin, Alta.