RCMP charge on-reserve cigarette manufacturers.
Arrest warrants were issued at the request of the RCMP's London, Ont. based Proceeds of Crime unit and named the eight partners who own Grand River Enterprises Six Nations Ltd. (known locally as GRE.)
A ninth man, a Native lawyer whose office is located on the reserve, was also charged. GRE manufactures the Sago brand of cigarettes.
Charged are partners Wayne Victor "Yogi" Bomberry, 36, Jeffrey Allen Burnham, 32, Sidney Burnham, 48, Kenneth Ryan Hill, 38, Jerry Bradwick Montour, 26, Peter John Montour, 57, Donald Skye, 51, Gregory Scott Smith, 38 and Ohsweken, Ont. lawyer Lonny Corbett Bomberry, 45.
Each is charge with four indictable offences and four counts of conspiracy related to the alleged illegal manufacturing, possession and sale of tobacco products, possession of proceeds of crime and money laundering.
The Six Nations band council have fully supported GRE since the plant opened in January 1994. The council was quick to issue a press release condemning the charges. The regional branch of the Assembly of First Nations--the Chiefs of Ontario office -- followed soon afterward with a similarly scathing response to the RCMP action. Native leaders and factory owners say the issue doesn't belong in the courts.
In their published list of pre-election promises, (called the Red Book), the federal Liberals assured First Nations people that the federal government would respect the jurisdiction of First Nations governments over their own territories. A statement issued jointly by GRE and the Six Nations council called the charges against the company a "failure by the RCMP to respect the Liberal government's Red Book promises of recognizing First Nations Inherent Right to Self-government."
When the partners announced their intention to open the business three years ago, spokesman Jerry Montour stated that the company would not pay excise tax, because the business was located on sovereign First Nation territory. The company asked the federal government to license their operation so that GRE could purchase Canadian tobacco. The heart of southern Ontario's tobacco belt is less than one hour's drive from the plant. Tobacco farmers and Haldimand Norfork MP Bob Speller (Liberal) urged Ministry of Revenue officials to relent on the tax issue and allow local tobacco farmers to access this new market. But the government would not give in.
Without a federal manufacturing license, the partners were forced to turn to "other sources" in Wilson, North Carolina and Pennsylvania for the tobacco product, the RCMP allege.
After almost two years of manufacturing without a federal license, the partners announced last year that they would seek one. Negotiations with Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Revenue officials were publicized early in 1996. Six Nations council and GRE claimed in their joint press release that the latest of those negotiating sessions occurred the day before the arrest warrants were sworn.
Sgt. Terry Cameron, the man who led the investigation which led to the charges, said he isn't concerned with the political aspect of the situation.
"My only concern is the legal aspect," he said. "Could they legally do what they were doing when they did it?"
Six Nations Police Chief Glenn Lickers criticized that position. He suggested it was absurd to think that a taxation issue involving a reserve-based company wasn't an issue for the politicians to deal with.
Lickers refused to lend his support when the RCMP previously made overtures about raiding the factory.
And it was not the first time the RCMP had fallen afoul of the Six Nations band council during this investigation. Council criticized the federal police service when its officers seized a bank account containing $172,400 several months ago.
GRE and council claim the money was a community fund that the partners contributed for much-needed local projects. Lawyer Lonny Bomberry claims that his only involvement with the company was to administer that fund in conjunction with the band council.
The Indian Act prohibits seizure of assets located on a reserve, but the bank account was located at an off-reserve branch. That seizure convinced the local police commission to boycott joint forces operations with the RCMP and to cancel the temporary secondment of a federal officer to the Six Nations police service.
With the political tension running high, the RCMP did not venture onto Six Nations territory to arrest the men. A lawyer in nearby Hamilton, Ont. was asked by the Mounties to arrange for the partners to surrender themselves.
A bail hearing with all nine of the accused in attendance went without trouble six days after the charges were announced. Lawyer Bomberry was released on his own recognizance. The partners were released on $5,000 bond.
A good-sized crowd attended a demonstration to protest the charges at the band administration building shortly after the charges were laid.
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|Date:||Dec 1, 1996|
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