On March 30, the Vancouver Sun published this article: Tobacco smuggling jeopardizes border traffic. This is the first sentence: "Because keeping the border open and goods flowing with our American neighbours is practically the definition of Canada's economic self-interest, anything that attracts the unfavourable attention of Washington to our border is to be avoided at all costs."

Now, that's the way to get the reader's attention: something is going on that might interfere with your ability to make those trips to Bellingham to get gallon jugs of milk and high-quality, low-cost shoes at Big 5.

What the article is about is the smuggling of cigarettes from Canada into the United States. It was written by Brian Lee Crowley, who is identified as the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

This deserves further scrutiny. "Macdonald-Laurier Institute": named after two of Canada's most famous prime ministers. That sounds important. (Of course, if I named my cats "Sir John A." and "Sir Wilfrid", that wouldn't make them important.) However, the use of the word "institute" should be a red flag for any student of Postmedia publications. That's because the associate editor of the Sun, Fazil Mihlar, was a "fellow" of the Fraser Institute prior to joining Postmedia. This is the Fraser Institute that takes money from the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil, and uses it to champion climate change denial. They also put out an annual ranking of British Columbia high schools, which is reported as "news" by the Sun, The Province, and CKNW without any questions raised about its accuracy or usefulness.

So, what is this "Macdonald-Laurier Institute"? It was characterized by Donald Gutstein of The Tyee as a "key accomplice to Tories in their assaults on truth."

Crowley, author of the Sun piece, believes that the tar sands, fracking, and fish farms are good things. The institute doesn't reveal who funds them, so we don't know who (other than Peter Munk of Barrick Gold) is paying for their opinions.

We do know that one of their directors is Purdy Crawford, who was the CEO of Imasco from 1985 to 2000. Imasco was a holding company whose assets included Imperial Tobacco, the purveyors of Player's, Du Maurier, and Matinee cigarettes.

Crawford would be a good resource for Crowley on the subject of cigarette smuggling. During Crawford's watch at Imasco, Imperial Tobacco was selling 6 billion cigarettes a year in the United States; this was 24% of their sales. No, people in the US were not switching from Marlboro to Player's in significant numbers. These cigarettes were shipped to warehouses in the US, then sold to smugglers, who illegally brought the cigarettes back into Canada. This activity is documented in Imperial Tobacco internal memos. Crawford appears on-camera in this CBC News story aired February 1, 2009:


So, why does the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, Crowley, and likely Crawford, now have an interest in the issue of cigarette smuggling? One possible explanation is, things have changed since 2000. The cigarettes being smuggled now have the brand names "Play Fares", "Golden Leaf", "Signal", and "Wolf Pack" instead of Player's, Matinee, and Du Maurier. Haven't heard of these brands? That's because they are manufactured on Indian reserves, instead of by BAT (Imasco's successor), Philip Morris, and the other Big Tobacco companies. Perhaps the Big Tobacco companies don't want any competition, so Crowley's article is the start of an effort to push Canadian and US governments to shut this competition down. However, if this is what the real agenda is, don't expect to read about it in the Vancouver Sun.