• U.S.

SMUGGLING: Shades of Eliot Ness!

2 minute read

In the heyday of Prohibition, Americans looked northward for booze, as truckloads of illicit liquor poured from Canada into a thirsty U.S. These days the high-proof smuggling traffic is operating in reverse, as Canadians try to get around their country’s steep taxes on hooch. A 1 3/4-liter bottle of Smirnoff vodka sells for as much as $26.50 in Canada, with taxes accounting for nearly $22 of the price. A similar size bottle can be had for only $16 across the border in New York. “There’s little stigma attached to smuggling liquor,” says William McKissock, a senior Canada Customs antismuggling officer. “It’s a lot easier to sell a case of Scotch than a kilo of cocaine.”

The opportunity has been too big to pass up. Smugglers last year ferried as many as 2 million cases of booze into Canada, hiding the stuff in everything from false oil tanks to Winnebagos to the doors of ordinary autos. Annual cost to Canada’s federal and provincial governments: up to $151 million in lost revenues.

Canadian officials seem overwhelmed by the illegal flood along the 3,987- | mile border. One reason is that thousands of vehicles pass border crossings daily, too many to check carefully. Another: the untold number of back roads and bays linking the two countries. Sighs Michael Crichton, a regional intelligence official for Canada Customs: “The odds are all on the smugglers’ side.”

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