The Unusual Story Behind the Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist

Maple Syrup | © Alexis Lamster / Flickr
Maple Syrup | © Alexis Lamster / Flickr
Photo of Emily Paskevics
15 September 2017

Five years ago in Quebec, 3,000 tons of maple syrup were stolen from the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup. At $2,000 per barrel (around 13 times the price of crude oil), it was a significant theft. The total stolen volume was estimated at $18.7 million, and much of it was never recovered. Here’s what went down.

The thieves of “The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist” of 2012 were ultimately tracked down, though it took considerable effort for the police to determine the full scale of the operation. The subsequent investigation led to 26 arrests and more than 200 witness interviews, creating a bizarre story surrounding one of Quebec’s major resources—and its sweetest.

Quebec Maple Syrup | © Lola Audu/ Flickr

In court, one of the thieves—Richard Vallières—claimed that he had been forced to buy the stolen syrup and replace it with water after being threatened by an unnamed man carrying a gun. The jury was not convinced, however, and found Vallières guilty of theft, fraud, and trafficking stolen goods.

Another main suspect, Étienne St-Pierre, was accused of buying the stolen syrup and rebranding it as New Brunswick syrup. He was also found guilty of fraud and of trafficking.

Maple syrup and french toast | © Pete Jelliffe/ Flickr

Although Vallière’s defence was not successful, the plot did involve stealing well over 9,000 barrels of syrup with tractor trailers, taking them to a sugar shack, emptying the barrels and filling them back up with plain water. The plan was initially successful: since the team only siphoned the barrels from the global reserve of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup, the deed went unnoticed at first. After a year, however, some of the water-filled barrels started to rust and this raised the alarm.

Another of the heist’s ringleaders, Avik Canon, was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $1.2 million for his involvement in the crime.

The men have been critical of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup, an organization that fixes maple syrup prices, imposes production quotas on producers, and enforces other regulations. For some, the heist was seen as an act of defiance against the state-sanctioned monopoly of the Federation, sometimes referred to as Canada’s “Maple Syrup Cartel.

A sugar shack in Quebec | © A Yee/ Flickr

Quebec maintains an important history and culture surrounding maple syrup, to the extent that nowadays maple syrup production in the province accounts for 75% of the global flow of maple syrup. The industry has in excess of $400 million in annual sales. The second-leading region is Maine, in the USA, accounting for less than 10% of the world’s maple syrup production.

Considering the cultural and economic importance of this natural resource, it should be no surprise that price-fixing and substantial theft of maple syrup are transpiring in Quebec. With so much money on the line, the sweet product is just as fiercely contested and guarded as some recreational drugs.

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