Quebec’s provincial police now allege it might not just be syrup thieves but a syrup gang responsible for disappearances from the province’s "strategic reserve" of maple syrup.
Having arrested three people on related charges on Dec. 18, la Surete de Quebec on Thursday announced it has arrested a total of 18 people in the previous three days — all facing charges of theft, conspiracy to commit theft, receiving stolen goods and fraud.
The police force also said it has arrest warrants for, and is "actively searching" for, seven other people. Other arrests may also take place, la Surete said in Thursday’s release.
The police force said Dec. 18 it had seized two forklifts, two platform lifts, four syrup cauldrons and six electronic scales, plus vehicles used to transport syrup.
Officers said at the time they’ve also recovered two-thirds of about six million pounds of syrup alleged to have been stolen from a St-Louis-de-Blandford warehouse operated by the Federation des producteurs acericoles du Quebec, the province’s producer group and syrup marketing agency.
The disappearance of the syrup made international headlines when first reported in August — due mainly to the FPAQ’s characterization of its warehoused syrup inventories as a "global strategic reserve."
Quebec produces about 75 per cent of the global supply of maple syrup; about two-thirds of Canada’s total production is exported to the U.S.
FPAQ has said several states’ producers have seen a "very low, indeed catastrophic" harvest during the 2012 season, while Quebec’s harvest "remained normal."
The warehouse at St-Louis, about 70 km east of Trois-Rivieres, is one of three sites where the province’s syrup is temporarily stored ahead of sale and distribution, the federation has said.
The federation said last week said it has "initiated several procedures" to recover the syrup and the proceeds from its sale.
Furthermore, the federation said, la Surete’s investigation has turned up unrelated cases "where maple syrup might have been illegally sold by producers to buyers outside the collective marketing system in place, in Quebec."
Producers and buyers involved in any such sales "may have to answer for their actions" before the province’s Regie des marches agricoles et alimentaires, the administrative tribunal that regulates marketing of farm produce, the FPAQ said Dec. 18.