Contributing Lawyers


Cyndee Todgham Cherniak

United States

Susan Kohn Ross


Andrew Hudson

Canada Border Services Agency Seized $2.4 Billion in Goods Last Year

Kathleen Harris is reporting in the Toronto Sun that the Canada Border Services Agency seized illicit and illegally imported goods worth more than $2.3 billion at the border last year. Records obtained by QMI Agency under Access to Information show that the types of seized goods include:

  • illegal drugs;
  • tobacco;
  • guns and other prohibited weapons (including rifles and revolvers to semi-automatic pistols, handguns, sawed-off shotguns, brass knuckles, clubs, crossbows, stun guns and switchblades;
  • 277,479 litres of beer, 77,405 litres of wine and 49,740 litres of spirits
  • Child pornography — including 10 books, 509 CDs/DVDs, five comic books, and 539 other materials;
  • motor vehicles;
  • Animals & birds;
  • currency (including 22 bank drafts, two bonds, 39 cheques and 2,186 currency seizures worth nearly $40 million)
  • jewelry and gemstones;
  • Fur;
  • skins;
  • leather;
  • groceries; and
  • musical instruments.

For more information, please go to the following link -

I get calls on weekly basis by someone who has experienced a seizure at the Canadian border. The number of calls have increased in 2009/2010 over the previous 5 year period (combined). In many cases, the person calling has failed to inform the CBSA of an important fact and that fact is discovered upon inspection. However, in a number of cases, the CBSA has misunderstood the facts, made incorrect assumptions, jumped to incorrect conclusions, failed to offer Canadians (English/French is a second language) with an interpreter and in some cases incorrectly applied the law and in some cases conducted illegal / unconstitutional searches.

The best advice that I can offer is:

1) If you do not import illegal goods or goods that are not permitted, then your goods should not be seized;

2) If you can prove that the goods you are importing were not acquired outside Canada (or were previously legally imported into Canada or acquired in Canada), your goods should not be seized;

3) If you tell the truth and do not lie, your goods should not be seized;

4) If you do not understand questions asked by the CBSA, you should ask for clarification - to avoid confusion that may lead to a seizure; and

5) If you do not speak English or French well, ask for an interpreter - to avoid confusion that may lead to a seizure.

If you act inconsistently with the Customs Act, your goods can be seized and subject to a 30% or 50% or 60% penalty (for their return). It is possible that your goods will not be returned to you if they are illegal or illicit goods. You can be charged criminally if you commit an offence under the Customs Act or the Criminal Code.

A single lie can cost you a lot of money. If you say that you have 1 bottle of spirits and you have 3, it will cost you more than the GST/HST and excise duties that your lie attempted to avoid. If you say that you did not receive anything outside Canada and you have purchased a Rolex watch, it will cost you more than the GST/HST and excise duties that your lie attempted to avoid.

If your goods are seized, it will cost more than $1000 for a lawyer to write a letter requesting a reconsideration of the decision and it takes about a year for the CBSA to issue a reconsideration letter. A judicial review of the CBSA's decision can cost over $100,000. An appeal to the Federal Court of Canada can cost between $50,000 to $100,000 (or more). Responding to criminal charges can cost another $50,000-$100,000 or more depending on the circumstances.

That being said, we have recently reduced a penalty in the range of $50,000 to $31,000. The savings from a change in level of penalty made it worth fighting the penalty.

In another recent case, a client saw the criminal charges dropped and the civil penalties reduced.

In another recent case, a client was able to ask the CBSA to hold the goods and the client picked up the goods upon leaving Canada. As a technical matter, the goods never entered Canada.

If you require assistance, please do not hesitate to call Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-307-4168.

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