Canada’s “War on Contraband Tobacco”

The security implications of contraband tobacco and the consequences of the changes to Canada’s Criminal Code introduced by Bill S-16.[1]

Contraband products represent about 15% of Canada’s tobacco market and hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit revenue, lost legal earnings and lost taxes. Existing measures have contained the potential security dangers that derive from contraband tobacco, and have kept smoking rates in Ontario and Quebec, where much of the illicit products are consumed, in tune with the declining trend in the rest of the country. In other words, things are not great, but they may well be as good as can be. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Well, the Harper government appears keen on doing just that.

The measures contemplated by Bill S-16 flow directly from the kind of thinking that led to the disastrous War on Drugs: punish them all, from the smallest violator to the global drug kingpin. As you may know, the results have not been great, especially for impoverished users everywhere and especially for impoverished people in producing and transit countries. Now that a growing movement towards softening drug laws is developing, not just among potheads and academics but also among the American, Canadian and European public, as well as the US’ and Latin America’s political establishment, Canada’s government under Stephen Harper is moving backward with no solid evidence to support its stand. Following a hardening of the regime against drugs with Bill C-10, Bill S-16 now completes the turn of this country’s crime policy towards a hard line on law and order, when what evidence we have points exactly in the opposite direction: crime is declining.

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