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.
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