OTTAWA — It was an inside job of sorts.
Thieves with access to a warehouse and a careful plan loaded up trucks and, over time, made off with $18 million of a valuable commodity.
The question is what was more unusual: that the commodity in question was maple syrup, or that it came from something called the global strategic maple syrup reserve, run by what amounts to a Canadian cartel.
On Tuesday, the police in Quebec arrested three men in connection with the theft from the warehouse, which is southwest of Quebec City. The authorities are searching for five others suspected of being involved, and law enforcement agencies in other parts of Canada and the United States are trying to recover some of the stolen syrup.
Both the size and the international scope of the theft underscore Quebec’s outsize position in the maple syrup industry.
Depending on the year, the province can produce more than three quarters of the world’s supply.
“It’s like OPEC," said Simon Trepanier, acting general manager of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. “We’re not producing all the maple syrup in the world. But by producing 70 to 78 percent, we have the ability to adjust the quantity that is in the marketplace."
“In the States you have the strategic oil reserve," Trepanier said, continuing with his petroleum analogy. “Mother Nature is not generous every year, so we have our own global strategic reserve."
Trepanier estimates that the reserve now holds 46 million pounds of syrup.
Lt. Guy Lapointe of the Surete du Quebec, the police force that led the investigation, said that the thieves rented another portion of the warehouse for an unrelated business. That enabled them to drive large trucks into the building.
The police have tracked down about two-thirds of the stolen syrup and are trying to seize it, particularly a large quantity in the United States, which is the largest buyer of Quebec’s legitimate production.