Mohawk company Alfred and Stacey, owned by Barry Alfred and Joe Stacey, is the first Native legal cigarette wholesaler in Quebec. This young Mohawk-owned company is young, full of pride and, according to the Quebec government, selling legal cheap smokes in Kahnawake. Long portrayed as the hotbed of alleged contrabrand smokes, Alfred and Stacey is seen as bucking the trend.
Joe Stacey served a regretful stint as a Band Councilor and has another business as a business consultant. Barry Alfred is involved in the community as manager and head coach for the local lacrosse team. He used to play what he calls “the roughest sport on two legs.” When he retired, it was with a dislocated shoulder in a game that allows you to legally slash an opponent’s arm.
Both men brought experience and determination to the fight for a cigerette wholesaler permit.
They started negotiating for their license last October. The negotiations with Revenue Quebec took 10 weeks instead of the three that is normal for other Quebec companies.
The first two officials from Revenue Quebec that Alfred and Stacey met seemed surprised. Eventually they were helpful, but at first they didn’t want anything to do with Alfred and Stacey. Stacey told The Nation the problem was because Club Rez, a Kahnawake retailer.
“They were acting like a wholesaler but weren’t charging non-Natives taxes. It was the same price so Revenue Quebec found out about it. Then they put a stop to it. I’m not sure of the details but Revenue Quebec revoked their retail license according to what they told us,” Stacey said.
“In fact they put a freeze on everybody. It was more than just Club Rez selling to non-Natives tax-free. So everybody got cut-off from the suppliers. The word was no cigarettes to Kahnawake until everyone sat down and negotiated with them. Everyone I guess felt reluctant to follow Revenue’s rules about charging the taxes to non-Natives. Then out of the blue we came in to negotiate with Revenue and told them we’d be in compliance. We told them we didn’t think it was their right to get it tax-free in the first place. It was only Natives who had the inherent right to get it tax-free,” added Alfred.
Alfred said this was the bargaining tool with Revenue Quebec. In fact, according to Alfred and Stacey, Revenue Quebec was shocked to be approached by these entrepreneurs from Kahnawake.
“What shocked them was when we told them we were prepared to charge non-Natives with taxes. You see, we found out that in the
meetings with Chief Joe Norton and Club Rez, they had used the argument that no Mohawk was willing to charge any non-Native tax. Which was b.s. because you just have to look around to see it’s not true. The gas station and the lumberyard both charge taxes to the non-Natives,” said Alfred.
“It’s the black market that’s really behind it. There’s so much organized crime here they (Revenue Quebec) just don’t want no involvement. The impression the Revenue officials got was that you’d be assassinated if you tried to charge taxes. I mean if you were that official you’d be likely to believe it if you were listening to a chief, right? So me and Stacey were a shock when we told them what we wanted to do. I argued about it because I believe why should non-Natives not pay taxes? All my life I’ve believed this.”
Alfred and Stacey looked at it almost as a game figuring out what Revenue Quebec needed for them to operate as a business.
At times they hit problems like when they went looking for an address in Montreal Revenue Quebec gave them. “We roamed around Old Montreal looking for this place by taxi and foot. Finally we stopped in a government buildingand asked for directions. Imagine our faces when we learnt we weren’t just in the wrong neighborhood but the wrong city! It turns out that address was in Quebec City,” laughs Alfred.
“I didn’t trust Revenue Quebec for a little while after that one,” says Stacey with a twinkle in his eye. “Well, we finally got to the office we needed and filled out this form. I can see why the Longhouse might disagree with the application because you become basically a collection agency for the Quebec government.”
When asked about how other cigarette sellers on the reserve felt about their business, Stacey explained the $4.36 principle to The Nation. “There’s a $4.36 tax rebate at the retail level if a Native buys a carton of cigarettes. People became rich in Kahnawake because of that. Say you sell a thousand cartons a month. That’s $4,360 that is supposed to go to Native people who smoke, not the store. Those are the people who seem to have this little clique going with the Chief and Council. It’s a small group of about four or five businesses. We’ve gotten into arguments over this. They’ve tried to make us feel guilty,” explained Stacey.
“When we went to see the stores, they were upset with us saying we were setting a precedent by charging the non-Natives tax. They told us we shouldn’t since this is a reserve. So I told them, ‘Hell, you’re talking and how much did you make off of us last