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AFN Chief Speaks Out Against Tobacco Seizures

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The head of Canada’s First Nations governing body has called for the return of cigarettes seized recently from two First Nation reserves in as many provinces.

“First Nations leaders and governments are legitimately asserting their authority and jurisdiction regarding tobacco sales and distribution in their communities based on their authority over health, commercial activity and economics and trade,” said National Chief Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations in a statement after large cigarette stores that were to be sold on reserve lands were seized by provincial authorities. “Furthermore, it is obvious that there is no consensus regarding the jurisdiction issue since the tobacco products seized come from federally licensed First Nation tobacco manufacturers and, generally, provincial jurisdiction on reserve is limited according to Canada’s own constitutional law.”

Atleo added that the recent seizures of large quantities of cigarettes in Alberta and Ontario, is bringing an old issue to the fore as jurisdictional disputes regarding tobacco emerge.

“Federal, provincial and First Nations governments need to reconcile their interests and authorities through intergovernmental dialogue and agreements, and the AFN is willing to assist in this matter in any way that is helpful,” Atleo stated. “First Nations are in the best position to locally address and regulate health and safety concerns regarding tobacco, particularly since it is a sacred substance. The bottom line is that First Nations’ jurisdiction must be respected.”

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Fourteen million cigarettes were seized recently on an Alberta reserve, and 6.3 million in Eastern Ontario, by provincial authorities. Both tribes say the cigarettes were going to be sold on reserves only. Authorities are investigating.