Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tobacco, guns seized in smoke-shop raid

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First, it was the Chundee Smoke Shop. Now, the RCMP have slapped a long list of charges against a second Dakota smoke shop.

RCMP and provincial tax officials seized nearly a million unmarked cigarettes and six firearms, while four people were arrested after the massive contraband tobacco seizure last week at the shop on Dakota Plains First Nation near Portage la Prairie.

The Chundee shop, located south of Brandon, has been raided in the past.

There are differences between the two tobacco shops that will alter the legal landscape, said Orville Smoke, chief of Dakota Plains.

He said the Dakota Plains shop also sells legal cigarettes. It's located on reserve land about 30 kilometres southwest of Portage la Prairie and the building and business are band-owned.

It's been open for about four years, selling both kinds of cigarettes with no problem, Smoke said. Those are all factors that complicate the province's position if the case makes it to court, the chief argued.

"There's nothing criminal about it," the chief insisted.

Manitoba's position is the possession and sale of unmarked tobacco products is illegal, on or off reserve land.

RCMP, the Dakota Ojibway Police Service and Manitoba Finance taxation officials carried out the raid Jan. 22.

Police seized 4,800 cartons, which amounted to 951,225 cigarettes. More than 1,840 tins of chewing tobacco, six firearms, one vehicle and an unspecified amount of cash were also seized.

Police arrested two Quebec men, Matthew Audi, 26, and Christopher Wilkins, 30, after they made a delivery of contraband tobacco to the smoke shop.

Craig Blacksmith, who RCMP say is the shop's owner, was arrested a short while later. The 51-year-old has a history of butting heads with authorities over the sale of contraband tobacco.

Blacksmith has said since Dakota Plains has no official treaty status in Canada, it is sovereign and he doesn't recognize provincial jurisdiction.

Smoke supports Blacksmith's position and said the latest raid was on reserve land, which is also illegal. Smoke claims the RCMP got it wrong when they identified Blacksmith as the owner of the Dakota Plains operation.

A fourth person, Tammy Walters, 42, was also arrested. She was the lone employee in the shop during the raid.

The four suspects are scheduled to appear in a Winnipeg court May 12.

All told, finance officials calculated $292,572.68 of tax was avoided.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2014 A6

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