Multimillion-Dollar Syrup Heist Puts Quebec In Sticky Spot

Police in Quebec have arrested 18 people in connection with a multimillion-dollar maple syrup heist. The crooks broke into the strategic reserve and made off with 6 million pounds of the sweet stuff this summer. Host Guy Raz talks about it with Canadian Press correspondent Peter Rakobowchuk.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

In Canada this week, 18 people were arrested in connection with the theft of 3,000 tons of maple syrup. The thieves stole the syrup from Canada's official strategic reserve of maple syrup. Who knew they had a strategic reserve of maple syrup? Peter Rakobowchuk is a national correspondent with the Canadian Press, and he's been following the story, and he picks it up from here.

PETER RAKOBOWCHUK: Well, it started way back in August when some inspectors were checking in on a warehouse in a town called Saint-Louis-de-Blandford. That's between Montreal and Quebec City. And they realized, hey, wait a minute here. There's some barrels missing. Six million pounds of maple syrup were taken. If you want to put that down in layman's term, that's roughly enough for about 180 million pancakes.

RAZ: Hundred and eighty million pancakes.

RAKOBOWCHUK: Enough syrup for that, yes.

RAZ: I read that this was taken from the Quebec strategic reserve of maple syrup. Is that true?

RAKOBOWCHUK: It may sound like a lot, but the maple syrup industry in Quebec has a reserve of about 46 million pounds. This warehouse had 10 million pounds, and only six million were stolen. So in the grand scheme of things, that may seem like a lot of maple syrup being stolen, but there was enough of the reserve.

RAZ: Well, I never heard of that. I mean, of course, we've got strategic oil reserves here in the U.S., and I'm assuming in Canada as well. I never knew that there was a strategic maple syrup reserve.

RAKOBOWCHUK: Mother Nature is kind of hard to predict. So for the industry, it was always safe to make sure that there was enough out there, enough in reserve so that they would be able to supply the markets. And what was really important is exports here. Quebec produces about 80 percent of the world's maple syrup.

RAZ: How did they take six million pounds of maple syrup out of the strategic reserve undetected?

RAKOBOWCHUK: The thieves, they had another part of the warehouse - so this was a huge warehouse - they rented another part of it. And it wasn't a problem for them to bring in trucks in and out. They were actually using the trucks to load up the maple syrup and take it out of the warehouse and start trying to ship it to market.

RAZ: Sounds like a sticky situation.

RAKOBOWCHUK: Very sticky. I wouldn't want to be the saps who were arrested, though.

RAZ: OK. There was a huge investigation, and I guess it's more or less been wrapped up in the last couple of days. What happened?

RAKOBOWCHUK: There were two raids. One of the raids was actually done in New Brunswick. Police actually went in, found this maple syrup, and they packed it into 16 trailers. And this is something that's rare. You don't see it very often. They actually had a police escort to bring it out of New Brunswick back into Quebec. So, I mean, the importance of maple syrup, it's an important part of the Quebec industry.

And one of our astronauts, Canadian astronaut Chris Hatfield, took a trip up to the International Space Station. He's going to be spending five months up there. And he brought two tubes of 100 percent pure maple syrup to share with the other astronauts who are going to be on the International Space Station. So it's a rare and, you know, important commodity and, I guess, a source of Canadian pride.

RAZ: That's Peter Rakobowchuk. He is a national correspondent with the Canadian Press. He spoke to us from Montreal. Peter, thanks.

RAKOBOWCHUK: My pleasure. Bon appetit, I guess.

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RAZ: Peter, what else do people use maple syrup for besides, you know, pancakes?

RAKOBOWCHUK: Actually, I was looking on the Internet, and I found a recipe to make some really good rice pudding using Italian rice and maple syrup.

RAZ: Oh.

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