08 December 2019
So, when Leigh Lundin suggested I write about the Canadian maple syrup heist, I thought ‘heist’ was a strong word for people running through the maple grove stealing buckets of sap.
It turns out that I was wrong, a heist it was: over twelve months, 3,000 tons of syrup, worth $18.7 million, was stolen. None of this was done by stealing buckets collecting sap. Worse, learning about this heist ruined all my lovely and naive sugarbush experiences and I’ll never look at another bottle of maple syrup the same way again.
The heist was possible because of three important facts that blew my preconceived notions about maple syrup out of the water.
First, "maple syrup comes only from the red- and sugar-maple forests found in the upper right-hand corner of North America, just where you’d sign your name if this were a test." This means that Canada, particularly the province of Quebec, produces 71% of the world’s maple syrup.
Second, since 1966 the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has instituted quotas and rules that have increased the price of maple syrup to be, in 2016, "valued at just over $1,300 a barrel, 26 times more expensive than crude".
Third, to control the supply of maple syrup, "members of the federation—Quebec’s bulk producers are required to join—give their harvest over to FPAQ… Some of it is sold immediately; the rest is stored in the Reserve… In this way, the federation steadies supply, filling the coffers in banner years, satisfying demand in fallow."
So, maple syrup production is not a cottage industry, adorably ensconced in sugar shacks dotting our maple groves. It’s a large profitable industry controlled and managed much like the oil industry. Total value of all maple products in 2018 was $384.4 million.
To give a visual recap:
The maple grove where I thought they stole maple syrup from:
The Reserve is in Laurierville, Quebec, where they actually stole maple syrup from:
A total of $18.7 million dollars of maple syrup was stolen from the Reserve in Laurierville. The thieves used trucks to transport barrels, siphoned off the maple syrup, and refilled the barrels with water and returned them to the facility. Later the thieves siphoned syrup directly from the barrels in the Reserve and left them empty. The stolen syrup was then sold in the United States and in New Brunswick, Canada, to distributors, many of whom were unaware it was stolen.
When the theft was discovered in 2012, the Sûreté du Québec police began an extensive investigation aided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and U.S. Customs. The police arrested two alleged ringleaders and 24 other people. A large portion of the syrup would ultimately be recovered.
However, this not the end of the story because it raises interesting questions about the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.
One of the ring leaders was Étienne St-Pierre, a maple syrup buyer from Kedgwick, New Brunswick, who bought the stolen syrup.
"You can't prove what tree the syrup came from," St-Pierre told the jury.
“St-Pierre also admitted he had long been an opponent of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, and resented their control of the market.
“The Crown produced evidence suggesting St-Pierre considered the federation to be akin to the Mafia.”
Is the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers like a maple syrup mafia? It is “a powerful marketing board with almost absolute control over the provincial industry…all Quebec maple syrup must pass through the federation, which dictates how much each producer can sell, and penalizes unauthorized production and selling.”
So, not a mafia, but certainly restrictive.
Before his sentencing, this is what St. Pierre said: he’ll continue to ignore those rules. And he’ll keep buying maple syrup from Quebec’s scofflaw producers. “I will never stop. I didn’t steal nothing.”
Étienne St-Pierre was found guilty of fraud and trafficking in 2017 and sentenced to two years less a day to serve in the community, as well as a three-year probation.
09 May 2015
Land of Ice and Snow, Smoggy Steeltown, and the Italian Mob
How to Write Mob Comedies in your own Home Town, and not get Taken Out by the Family
It all closed in on me at the launch of THE GODDAUGHTER mob caper in Hamilton. Eighty-five people stood waiting.
The local television station had cameras in my face. So far, it had been an easy interview focused on my awards and comedy career. The fellow was charming. I liked him a lot. Then he dropped the bomb.
“So…have you ever met a member of the mob?”
I didn’t like him so much anymore.
Yikes! Hesitation. A lot of feet shuffling.
“Yes.” I said, very precisely. So precisely, that everyone in the room laughed nervously. “In fact, I had to wait until certain members of my family died before getting this book published. ‘Nuf said.”
The ‘nuf said’ was the closure. He got it. Being a smart lad, he even let it drop.
Because frankly, I was speaking the truth. I did wait until certain people died. Some of them were in Sicily, but more were in Canada. Some even died from natural causes. (“He died cleaning his rifle” was an unfortunate family expression, meaning something entirely different, if you get my drift.)
This made me think about how close you want to get in a book to real life.
As writers, we research a hell of a lot. Of course, I did research for The Goddaughter series. Some of the study was pretty close to home, as I riffed on memories from my childhood.
My first memory is of a family reunion at a remote farmhouse in Southern Ontario. I was not quite three, and tears were streaming down my face. Big scary uncles picked me up. They tried to console me by speaking softly. But I couldn’t understand them because they were speaking in Italian, or more specifically, Sicilian.
Those were the days of Brio and cannoli after mass on Sunday mornings. And gossip about other relatives, one of whom was a famous boxer. My aunt’s friend, the singer (one of a trio of sisters) who could not escape the clutches of a mob underboss in the States; he wouldn’t let her go. I remember the aunts clamming up about this, when I ventured into the room looking for Mom.
I was a darling of the family, with dark curly hair and big evergreen eyes. Later, when I grew up curvy and was tall enough to model, they doted on me. So my memories of growing up in such a family are decidedly warped.
They were warm and loving. Very witty. Loads of fun. And massively protective.
In the screwball comedy THE GODDAUGHTER REVENGE, you will find a mob family that is funny and rather delightful. Gina loves them, but hates the business. She is always trying to put it behind her, and somehow gets sucked back in to bail them out. I wanted to show that ambivalence. You are supposed to love your family and support them. But what if your family is this one?
How close is too close to home? I do cut pretty close in describing Hamilton. The streets are real. The names of the neighbourhoods are real. I even describe the location of the restaurant where the mob (in my books) hangs out. I changed the name, of course, because the last thing I want is readers thinking this hot resto is really a mob hangout. And besides, it’s fun when fans email me to say, “When they all meet at La Paloma, did you really mean XXX?” Readers feel they’ve been part of an in-joke.
THE GODDAUGHTER series is meant to be laugh-out-loud funny. But there is an adage that states: Comedy is tragedy barely averted.
No kidding. I’ve been writing comedy all my adult life.
The Toronto Sun called her Canada's "Queen of Comedy." Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich. Melodie Campbell got her start writing standup. www.melodiecampbell.com