I don’t know about you, but when I think of a heist, I’m picturing Fort Knox, a casino or a bank vault. Maybe an art gallery. One of my more pop culture-aware co-writers or readers can no doubt correct me on this, but I don’t recall ever encountering a plot in comic books, movies or television that involved making off with millions of dollars in maple syrup. But here we are in 2012 and it’s happened. In real life. Someone (possibly wearing super villain gear, although that’s pure speculation on my part until they’re apprehended) broke through security at the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve in Quebec and made off with $30 million worth of Canada’s sweetest export.
I live in southwestern Ontario, where maple syrup is pretty much taken for granted. It’s offered for sale at roadside stands, in sugar bushes, at grocery stores. There are even mini amusement parks of a sort — although they tend to feature rust, sharp edges, dangerously steep slopes and “nostalgia” for times before safety regulations hit the world of playground equipment — built around the spring maple syrup harvest. We’ve taken the kids to a local place a few times and it’s always interesting and delicious.
It never crossed my mind that maple syrup was a strategic commodity. Gold, I can understand. Oil makes sense. Fresh water, yeah gotta have that. But maple syrup?
Canada is the global leader in production of this seasonal treat, churning out somewhere in the neighborhood of three quarters of the world’s supply. According to the documentation I was able to dig up, the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve was created in order to establish stockpiles of syrup that would be used to stabilize supply and prevent price fluctuations during poor harvests (something that may become more frequent as a result of climatic conditions). Although they don’t emphasize this point, presumably the reverse would also be true — letting producers stockpile surplus production during good harvests to prevent the price from falling too dramatically.
An article in Ontario Farmer from earlier this year (pre-heist), described a new facility in Quebec that was opened as part of the Strategic Reserve:
“The new Laurierville factory warehouse will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology which will help with efficient syrup pasteurization, minimizing stock loss and optimizing barrel handling. The same rigorous quality controls and perfect traceability from maple grove to buyer will be in place as normal.“
In retrospect, it seems that all of the facilities should have been equipped with those measures to minimize stock loss and traceability. No “strategic reserve” of anything should be so poorly secured that someone could waltz in and make off with enough of the stuff housed within to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool one and a half times over (or 7.5 million bottles on the shelves of grocery stores). Even if they didn’t have the kind of budget to spring for Fort Knox-caliber security, some cameras, a basic alarm system, a guard or two, or maybe even some RFID ships on the syrup barrels would have helped prevent this calamity and/or made for a fast recovery of the $30 million in stolen goods.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Canada, a gang of thieves is high-fiving, probably coming down from the sugar high of the century and trying to figure out the next phase of their get-rich-quick scheme: how to fence nearly a million gallons of “hot” maple syrup. This is likely to be the most challenging Canadian proceeds of crime disposal case since Ricky, Julian and Bubbles had to get rid of a massive plastic ball full of loonies and toonies in Trailer Park Boys – The Movie.*
So if the syrup for your pancakes is more expensive than you remember in coming months, or you’re filled with misgivings while shopping — is that bottle really “pure Canadian maple syrup,” or is it bootlegged stuff from the maple mafia? — blame Canada*
*Parental Warning: even the Wikipedia link for the South Park song Blame Canada (the mildest of the bunch) may contain text which is not appropriate for young children. And it goes without saying that Trailer Park Boys — while hilarious — is also far from kid-friendly viewing material.