Canada: The Canada Border Services Agency Imposes Fines For Failure To Declare Meat

Last Updated: August 8 2019
Article by Cyndee Todgham Cherniak

The Canada Border Services Agency ("CBSA") has the power to issue fines of up to $CDN 1,300 if you fail to report meat in your luggage.  The CBSA has the authority to examine goods in the possession of travelers arriving in Canada and airports, land border crossings and at other ports of entry. The CBSA looks for a number of possible infractions, including failure to report imports of meat (and other foods products).  Meat can be contaminated by African Swine Fever and that virus (and others) can harm Canada's food supply.  This is why a failure to report is considered to be serious by the CBSA.

The CBSA has posted a notice on it website concerning African Swine Fever concerns.  The CBSA is also concerned to prevent the spread of avian influenza and foot-and-mouth disease. Because of the risks of food related diseases, the Government of Canada regulates the import and export of controlled food, plants, animals and related products to and from Canada.

Any traveler that wants to bring food into Canada should check the Automated Import Reference before coming to Canada and search whether the food can be imported.  If the food item is restricted, the CBSA will take it from you and destroy it.

Travelers must report that they are importing food.  The E311 Declaration Card includes a question about imports of food and live animals.  NEXUS kiosks and primary inspection kiosks also include a question about  imports of food and live animals.  If you certify that you do not have food and food is located in your luggage or vehicle or boat, the CBSA will impose a fine up to the amount of $CDN 1,300. Violations are classified as minor, serious or very serious and carry the following range of penalties for travellers:

  • Minor violation: $500 per violation;
  • Serious violation: $800 per violation; and
  • Very serious violation: $1,300 per violation.

The violation rules are set out in the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Regulations.

If you report the food and it cannot be imported into Canada, the CBSA will seize the food and destroy it.  You should not receive a fine.  Unfortunately, there are situations where the CBSA issues a fine even when food is reported on an E311 Declaration Card or at  kiosk.  Sometimes the CBSA asks follow up questions about the food being imported and you must identify all of the food. If you fail to mention meat and meat is located in your luggage, a fine will be imposed under the umbrella of failing to provide true, accurate and complete information when asked. However, sometimes the CBSA does not list all the information provided or just forgets that a complete declaration was made and issues the fine.  These situations can be appealed.

The CBSA may allow you to pay 50% of the fine before leaving the airport or port of entry, but if you make a payment of the discounted fee, you lose all rights of appeal.  You must not accept the CBSA's offer to pay a lower amount if you wish to maintain your appeal rights.  Most people pay the fine/penalty without appreciating they lose their appeal rights.

If you decide to file an appeal, the appeal must be filed within 30 days of the notice of violation.

It is important to know that you will have a customs infraction on your record if you fail to declare the meat or agricultural products.  The CBSA officer usually seizes your NEXUS card at the same time as imposing the fine (and seizing the meat/food) for destruction.  If you pay the 50% fine and lose your rights to appeal the customs infraction, you limit your ability to appeal the NEXUS cancellation.

That being said, we have successfully helped clients appeal NEXUS card confiscations even when they have paid the fee.  It is more difficult, but we have been successful. For example, we were able to argue that the CBSA was wrong in seizing certain food products and that there should not be a customs infraction on the traveler's record.

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.

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