Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Tobacco Regulation and Revenue Sharing Agreement Meeting

Sentiment Not the Same as Director of Tehotiienawakon

 


On Wednesday, April 18, community members gathered at the Ànowaràkowa Arena Turtle Room for the Tobacco Regulation and Revenue Sharing Agreement (TRRSA) meeting. On Tuesday, April 17th at 8:59AM, the MCA Facebook page announced James Ransom would review the TRRSA on the CKON Tetewatharen – Lets All Talk show. The talk show was presented an hour later on the same day. At 9:53AM of the same day, the notice for this meeting appeared on the MCA Facebook page announcing the meeting for Wednesday. Indian Time received the announcement (via email) on Tuesday, April 17th at 9:52AM. Indian Time goes to print on Wednesday and hit the stands on Thursday mornings.

With short notice, community members attended the meeting sharing their concerns, comments, suggestions and ideas about the Tobacco Regulation and Revenue Sharing Agreement. The meeting started at approximately 5:05pm and ended at 9:15pm.

In 2013, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne received funding from the Government of Ontario for the development of a Tobacco Regulatory Framework which facilitated the development of the Akwesasne Oién:kwa Kaianerénhsera (Akwesasne Tobacco Law).

In December 2017, MCA and the Government of Ontario established the process to negotiate a Tobacco Final Agreement and the proposed Tobacco Regulation and Revenue Sharing Agreement, which was presented to Council on Monday, April 9, 2018.

During the Tobacco Regulation and Revenue Sharing Agreement Focus Meeting on April 18th, Director of the Department of Tehotiienawakon, James Ransom, gave a line-by-line reading of the proposed agreement with the intent to review and thoroughly examine the agreement. At 6:10pm, having reached only page six (6) of the thirty-five (35)-page document, Mr. Ransom, with community members in agreement, changed his focus to sharing the most important aspect of the agreement.

Ransom provided a brief background before reviewing the document line by line. In 2012 MCA was meeting regularly with representatives of the Quebec government to develop tobacco laws beneficial to the community of Akwesasne. Meetings were going well until an election was called and Quebec never returned to the table.

In March of 2018, MCA received a message from the Minister of Finance recognizing the authority to create our own laws and legalize sales of cigarettes to non-natives.

On the week of April 9th, Bonnie Cole, Jim Ransom, Mark Martin and Steve Thomas presented the Tobacco Regulation and Revenue Sharing Agreement to Council. Council then made changes to the original Agreement.

According to Ransom, they have been negotiating with the Province of Ontario to: 1. Balance the interest of the community members who sell tobacco and 2. Address health concerns of the community.

Community members presented a number of concerns and questions, most centered on the immediacy of MCA passing and accepting the TRRSA before May 9th without the community’s full knowledge and understanding of the Agreement. As much as community members voiced valid, important and far-reaching concerns, their frustration reached a new level when ‘hard copies’ would not be handed out. Several community members requested a hard copy and for each request, Ransom stated hard copies would not be shared with community members; as part of the understanding with Ontario and based on good faith in negotiations, it was agreed at the time to not share it publicly.

Ransom stressed repeatedly the time constraint was due to the impending provincial election and how in all likelihood, the liberal government would be voted out of power and the Agreement would not reach a table or politically supportive audience.

The next step is to bring TRRSA to Council and for Council to approve it through a Resolution. Once passed, they would then focus on education and negotiations with CBSA and non-natives crossing with stamped cigarettes purchased on Kawehnoke.

After signing the agreement, and within six months (180 days) either party can terminate the agreement making it null and void, including the newly elected provincial government. AT least 100 First Nations are in various stages of discussion, research, and negotiations in regards to First Nation tobacco regulations and tobacco laws.

Based on notes taken at the meeting, here are random remarks, concerns, issues, and questions community members made during the meeting:

A community member asked what part MCA would have in the sale, manufacturing and distribution of tobacco. Ransom stated, “We have no intention to manufacture cigarettes. We have no intention to wholesale. We have discussion in here to opening a store on Hamilton Island as a possible business venture. Council asked us to include this. We have not locked in that a corporation (Three Feathers) would run that store – its just an option.

Ontario amended their tax law, it allows the Minister of Finance to enter into an agreement with MCA. So if you’re following our (MCA) laws, you’re exempt from their laws. Manufacturing with another reserve, with proper MCA documentation, the OPP will not stop them.”

Q – Has any law based on UNDRIP Section 35 ever been tested in the Ontario Court, as the TRRSA is based on Section 35.

A – No law or case based on section 35 has been tested in court.

Q – All of our issues are supposed to be dealt in the federal level?

A – In 2012 MCA entered into talks with the Quebec government to regulate tobacco; with an election all of that changed and Quebec never returned to the table. In 2013, MCA received funding from the Government of Ontario to develop tobacco regulations and laws: Akwesasne Oién:kwa Kaianerénhsera – Akwesasne Tobacco Law (ATL).

Q – Who is entered into negotiations?

A – “TRRSA is MCA and the Province. ATL is MCA and the people.”

Q – What protections do you have in place for Akwesasne? Has that been placed in this agreement?

A – MCA has the ability to walk away from this agreement within 180 days. Ontario also has the right to walk away from the agreement within the 180 days.

Q – Will quotas still exist?

A – Quotas still exist. Legalize sales to non-natives. There would be no need for quotas. Quotas put limits on how much you can buy. We sell the cigarettes to vendors and under provincial system sales to non-natives are not legal. Potentially 70% of sales are to non-natives. Including major brands. TRSSA relates to all cigarettes.

Q - “This agreement would potentially lift that quota?”

A – The goal is to make this market driven. Right now we can’t sell the existing quota. We are trying to make something that does work. This gets us towards that 147,000 sold rather than 20,000 sold.”

Q - In theory they could vote against the recommendations?

A – Everything they’ve done has demonstrated their intent to make this work.

Q – We would have to recognize the Ontario Tobacco Act?

A – Tobacco Tax Act was already amended last December to give authority to the Minister to enter into this agreement with Akwesasne. The Minister of Finance regulates tobacco in Ontario. They have to amend their regulation for legal transportation of cigarettes from Akwesasne. Under the Tobacco Tax Act they would have to create regulations that recognize the ATL. They haven’t done that yet.

Q - This is a small group of people wrapping our brains around things that have already happened. Is the community clear in this consultation process at this point, that these regulations all still need to get done on both ends?

A - We presented at a General Meeting in Tsi Snaihne. We had a slide that talked about this specifically. Its been viewed over two hundred times and we are presenting it here again.

Q – Do you have those hard copies to review. I think this is what we need to review this. You can’t race through these paragraphs.

A – “The problem is we would love to do that – we don’t have the time to do that.”

Q – I think we have all the time. This is our community.

A – “The concern we have is the provincial government that is willing to enter into this agreement and on May 9, that is all going to change when they call for a provincial election. It’s likely they will not get back in office. They are pointing towards a conservative victory.”

Q – Don’t you think this is unfair to this community.

A – “It is unfair.”

Q – So why are you trying to do this in a fast fashion to appease a provincial government?

A – It’s been 6 years in the making. So it’s not a fast fashion.

Q – It is when you haven’t distributed what this entails to the community.

A – This agreement basically recognizes ATL. Sales to non-native.

Q – There are only a handful of us here. What have you been distributing? We should have, as a right, as a whole, to view this.

A – You are viewing it right now.

Q – Where is the rest of the community?

Q – Will there be another opportunity to view this?

A – “That is up to Council.”

Q – We have been functioning for the past six years; why do we need this now?

A – “It includes revenue sharing money that can be used to trigger other businesses.”

Zimmerman is funding this pilot project. This is a liberal project.

Q – “It seems like its more of reactive move than a proactive move?”

A – The Agreement in principle (not complete hard copies) was presented at three consecutive MCA General meetings.

Q – It’s a common and well-known fact in this community that we don’t care about provincial or federal elections. And so now there is money on the table to be had, here the time clock is ticking for us, we are going to rush to not allow the public to fully understand this document?

A – “The ATL law has been around for two years. This is not a new document. What this does is empowers this with the province.”

Q – In other words we are only allowed to deal with another First Nation who falls under this agreement?

A – We are the first ones, so there is no one else. There are 49 other First Nations in various stages of development, research or negotiations.

Q – This is cutting us off at the limbs.

Q – What if no other First Nation decides to go into this direction?

A – 49 going in this direction. 42 have signed an agreement.

Q – What are you just bringing this to us now?

A – We began in June 2016. Community consultation ended October 2017.

Q – Are all chiefs on board with this?

A – We will find out when it’s presented in the form of a resolution.

Q – “What you are doing is creating a tremendous distrust in the community, the way it’s going right now.”

Q – “It is unfair to this community, the direction you are taking.”

A – “I wish I had more time.”

Q – What about the tollbooth and CBSA?

A – This agreement would address the tollbooth, not CBSA. These concepts have not even been introduced to them yet.

Q – Time constraint is more important than community consultation?

Q – Who sets up a store on Hamilton Island?

A – That would be decided by MCA. The Hamilton Island store would potentially meet the terms to trigger revenue sharing. $5.10 per carton stamping fee on Kawehnoke and a stamping agent fee of $29 on Hamilton Island. MCA would receive up to seven million dollars annually up to ten years. For all 133 First Nations to go on board, we would get less. We could provide grants to address energy issues, hire help and establish a summer intern program. Potentially use 7 million to support businesses in Akwesasne.

Q – This agreement is so controlling. Information sharing is above and beyond what should be required between MCA and Ontario.

Q - They don’t need to know that. If they (transporting tobacco) get stopped, then show documentation. It shouldn’t share all that information.

Q – This is a gag order on the community.

A – That is not the intent.

Q - Notify each other you need Ontario to give you a heads up.

A – “Courtesy and being respectful of each other.”

Q – Who answers to this?

A – Overall the Grand Chief. For day-to-day – myself (James Ransom).

On Monday, April 23, 2018 Indian Time received notice from MCA of additional Tobacco Agreement Focus Meetings. The meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, April 25th from 5pm to 9pm at the Iohahi:io Adult Education Facility (Tsi Snaihne District), and on Friday, April 27th, from 5pm to 9pm at the Kana:takon/St. Regis Recreation Center (Kana:takon District). Indian Time contacted the Department of Tehotiiennawakon to confirm whether hard copies of the Tobacco Regulation and Revenue Sharing Agreement will be made available to community members. As of Wednesday at 4pm, we had not received a response after repeated calls.

 

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