MONTREAL - It's alleged that in one small Quebec town, firefighters didn't just put out flames — they also helped many, many people light up.
Four firefighters have been arrested in a broader crackdown against marijuana and contraband cigarettes in Quebec, following a series of raids Wednesday that even saw a municipal fire hall targeted.
The town mayor says they were excellent firemen. Provincial police say they were even more prolific sellers of pot and illegal smokes.
The four volunteer firefighters were among 23 people arrested in police raids that took place in a number of Quebec towns.
They even nabbed the department chief.
The mayor of Godmanchester, Que. — population, 1,500 — says he was woken up by police before the crack of dawn and informed that his town's fire hall was being raided.
He says he was shocked. He'd always thought so highly of their work.
"They were very, very good workers in the fire department," Mayor Pierre Poirier said in an interview. "When there was a fire, they were right there and they worked very hard."
Police alleged they worked very hard at another job, too. Authorities allege they used department equipment, like the phone lines and encrypted radios at the fire hall, to co-ordinate their transactions in a lucrative sideline.
They said the men trafficked their goods back and forth across the nearby U.S. border.
Police say they seized 90 cases of contraband cigarettes, 110 kilograms of cannabis, $140,000 in cash, 35 guns, two bullet-proof vests, six properties, four vehicles and 20 toboggans.
The men allegedly used various means of transportation to smuggle cheap cigarettes into Canada, and marijuana down to the U.S.
In winter, the men allegedly used snowmobiles and sleighs. Whenever possible, police say, the men also used boats. Their key transit point was allegedly the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve.
When asked for a reaction to the arrests, Mayor Poirier replied curtly: "It's not a very nice image of the municipality."
He said police seized computers during their search at the fire hall. The mayor convened an emergency town meeting for Wednesday night to discuss with Godmanchester residents plans for the fire department.
More than 250 police officers, from various services, participated in the operation.
The bill, known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, includes the following measures: <em>With files from The Canadian Press</em> (CP/Alamy)
Heftier penalties for sexual offences against children. The bill also creates two new offences aimed at conduct that could facilitate or enable the commission of a sexual offence against a child. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Tougher sentences for the production and possession of illicit drugs for the purposes of trafficking. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Tougher penalties for violent and repeat young offenders. (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
An end to the use of conditional sentences, or house arrest, for serious and violent crimes (GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)
Allowing victims to participate in parole hearings. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
Extending ineligibility periods for applications for pardons to five years from three for summary-conviction offences and to 10 years from five for indictable offences. (Flickr: haven't the slightest)
Expanding the criteria that the public safety minister can consider when deciding whether to allow the transfer of a Canadian offender back to Canada to serve a sentence. (JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images)
Allowing terrorism victims to sue terrorists and their supporters, including listed foreign states, for losses or damages resulting from an act of terrorism committed anywhere in the world.(STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)
Measures to prevent human trafficking and exploitation. (LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)