Canada: Artists Entering Canada Are Being Targeted By Canada Border Services Agency

Last Updated: May 23 2019
Article by Cyndee Todgham Cherniak

Recently, there have been multiple incidents of Canada Border Services Agency ("CBSA") officers stopping artists for secondary screening. We are aware of several incidents. The incidents occurred at multiple border crossings. In all cases, the CBSA equated being an artist with being a drug mule.

In one incident, Tim Hogan, a Canadian indigenous artist from New Brunswick was detained and escorted by CBSA officers to a local hospital for x-ray screening even after an invasive internal exam by the CBSA officers (no ingested narcotics were found). Tim Horgan was informed by the CBSA officers that the indicators for extreme screening were that (1) he was an artist; (2) artists could not afford vacations in the Dominican Republic and (3) artists could not afford to fly business class. This incident was widely reported by Maria Jose Burgos of the CBC - See "An Indigenous artists takes a vacation alone - and CBSA holds him, X-rays him for drugs".

A second incident has not been reported in the media, but we are aware of the incident from the artist. An US-based artist was detained by the CBSA when he returned from South America en route to his home in the United States. He found a good deal on Air Canada and transited Toronto Pearson International Airport. While he did not expect to have to go through CBSA screening, he ended up in the secondary inspection area. He was told by the CBSA officers who conducted the secondary inspection that they believed he was carrying drugs because he was an artist (and he was traveling from South America). The CBSA also seized all his currency as proceeds of crime.

A third incident involved yet another artist who was sent for a routine secondary examination. After he was asked by the CBSA officer what he did for a living and he answered, "I am an artist", the examination took a negative turn. The next questions/statements from the CBSA officer was "are you concealing drugs in your luggage", "did someone pay you to ingest drugs", and "it will be easier for both of us if you tell me where you have hid your drugs - I will find them". The artist was taken aback by accusations of wrongdoing without any evidence to support the statements. No drugs were found in the luggage or after a pat down. No apology was given by the CBSA.

In a fourth incident, the CBSA stopped an artist who was coming to Canada to visit a friend. During an examination of his vehicle, which was not resultant, the CBSA took garbage from the back seat (he had gone to Wendy's) and swabbed the straw from the milkshake looking for drugs - there were none). The artist thought that this was a little over the top.

What these incidents have in common is that artists learned during their secondary examination that the CBSA treats "being an artist" as an indicator of illegal activity. The CBSA was clear to each artist that the examination escalated due to their status as an artist. Also, each artist was made to feel that the CBSA thought of them as a criminal because they were an artist. The CBSA Officer made demeaning statements to the artists that shows a negative cognitive bias against artists. It was not just one CBSA officer with the attitude against artists, it was multiple officers at different border crossings. What this means is that there is an internal and systemic bias against persons who earn a living creating art.

The CBSA has the authority to examine goods and persons entering Canada. The CBSA is permitted to ask questions and conduct drug screening. The CBSA should not escalate an examination unless there are multiple indicators that a person may be importing prohibited goods (e.g., drugs/narcotics) and/or committing a criminal offence and/or a customs infraction. What the CBSA cannot do is unfairly target a group of persons based upon their status as an artist.

What should artists do to ensure that they do not run into difficulties at the border? Artists who have web-sites on which they sell their art could help the CBSA understand that they earn a successful living. It is helpful to have art posted on the web-site and testimonials on the website. Artists should keep detailed records for income tax and GST/HST purposes, but also to show the CBSA that the currency in their wallet is not proceeds of crime. Importantly, artists should not take offense to the CBSA questioning their work - treat the questions as an opportunity to educate the officer about art. Also, it should go without saying, be careful what you pack in your luggage and CBSA sniffer dogs can detect residue (including smoke) on your clothing.

If you are detained by the CBSA. you are entitled to ask for a lawyer. You are also entitled to ask to speak to a supervisor. However, the supervisor may support the CBSA officer. When speaking with a supervisor, ask about the indicators that are escalating the examination. Offer to provide evidence to the CBSA that you have means - while you may feel that this is not fair, your goal is to de-escalate. It is best to help the CBSA do their job.

If you would like to avoid an invasive body cavity examination by two CBSA officers, offer to go to have the CBSA swap your luggage and hands and your face. Offer to have the CBSA conduct a pat-down search (to search for items concealed on the outside of the body). Ask if their is an x-ray machine at the airport (so that the CBSA can look for items concealed in the body) and offer this form of internal review. You can also offer to go to the hospital for an x-ray (again for an examination of items concealed in the body). The CBSA must indicate why non-resultant searches of luggage and person are being escalated to more invasive forms of examination. Document the answers provided by the CBSA.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions