New legislation proposed by the federal government will crack down on contraband tobacco, something Public Safety Minister Vic Toews describes as a “serious threat to the public safety of Canadians.”

The bill was announced Tuesday after being tabled by the Senate. If passed, the legislation would create a new Criminal Code offense for selling, possessing for the purpose of selling, transporting, distributing and delivering contraband tobacco.

“Contraband tobacco fuels the growth of organized criminal networks, contributing to the increased availability of illegal drugs and guns in our communities,” said Toews.

First-time offenders can receive a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment for less serious offences and five years imprisonment if prosecuted for more serious offences.

The bill also proposes mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders caught with large volumes of contraband: 10,000 cigarettes or 10 kilos of other tobacco products.

A second offence would carry a minimum of 90 days in prison, while a third offence would carry a minimum 180 days in prison. Subsequent convictions would carry minimum penalties of two-years-less-a-day in a provincial institution.

Hamilton city council was praised by the The Ontario Convenience Stores Association  for unanimously passing a motion against contraband tobacco last fall.

Hamilton’s mayor Bob Bratina wrote a letter encouraging the finance ministry to follow through on promises to increase resources in the fight against illegal tobacco.

Association CEO Dave Bryans says contraband tobacco usage is particularly troubling in the Hamilton area. Last fall the Mounties seized enough contraband tobacco to manufacture 1.4 million cartons of cigarettes.

Steven Spriensma is a journalist and former news editor at Ignite News. He has a degree in Geography from McMaster University and an advanced diploma in journalism from Mohawk College.

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