N.B. government cuts funding to defense unit fighting organized crime

WATCH: New Brunswick’s opposition party crying foul as the Blaine Higgs government cuts funding to a specialized policing unit combating this issue. As Megan Yamoah reports, it's a unit that helps take down criminals with ties to organized crime groups.

Contraband cigarettes are used to fund more than 170 criminal groups, some with ties to international terrorist organizations.

The Higgs government is pulling about $950,000 in funding to the public safety peace officers working within the Contraband Enforcement Unit.

The unit doesn’t just intercept cigarettes, they also seize drugs, guns, and investigate human trafficking rings.

“This government is not worried about the safety of the province or of the people of this province, they are concerned about a dollar bill,” said Liberal MLA Stephen Horsman.

READ MORE: Manitoba seizes illegal smokes, other contraband

The contraband enforcement unit was established by the former Liberal government in April 2015. The unit was aimed at dismantling smuggling networks while recovering tax losses.

After a consultation with the Atlantic Convenience Store Association, police, and the the government, the criminal defense unit was created and began operations. The unit is now a budget line that ended up on the chopping block at the New Brunswick legislature.

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“At the time the discussion were that there would be a revenue stream basically to help pay for it, through fines, through receiving the stuff back. Unfortunately that didn’t work.” said Carl Urquhart, who is New Brunswick minister of public safety.

The contraband tobacco market has a major impact on the provinces bottom line, and results in revenue losses of more than $13 million a year, according to the province.

“We stated that if they stopped one percent of the illegal tobacco coming in that would save $1 million in tax revenue, so they’re paying for themselves,” said Horsman.

WATCH: Illegal cigarettes a growing concern in New Brunswick

Illegal cigarettes a growing concern in New Brunswick
Illegal cigarettes a growing concern in New Brunswick

But the government argues a special police unit comes with extra expenses and maintained the unit isn’t needed, adding all officers can be or are already trained to intercept contraband.

“You’ve got equipment, you’ve got vehicles, you’ve got the office space for a unit that has to be there. And it’s a situation that I felt would be better utilized in other sections,” said Urquhart.

Police departments in both Ontario and Quebec have a similar programs and intelligence is shared between all detachments.

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All of the officers from the contraband enforcement unit have been reassigned to other departments within the force.

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