9 things we bet you didn’t know about the Canadian border crossing
By Nicole Chiu, Research and Innovation Office
We all share the uneasy feeling of having to cross the border, whether it’s going into the U.S., or returning to Canada from a trip. There’s a lot more than the seemingly never-ending questions from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers or the famous drug-sniffing dogs we all get excited to see while we wait to cross the land border in our cars.
Dr. Patrick Lalonde is a former student CBSA officer and has researched Canadian borders for many years. Patrick gives us the inside scoop on what goes on at these ports of entry that we may not know about. Some are bizarre and others can protect you and your family members when crossing the Canadian border.
1.Cheese is one of the most smuggled commodities in Canada.
This is due to the Canadian Government’s protection of the Canadian dairy farming industry. It’s sometimes referred to as the “Canadian Cheese Cartel”. Cheese exceeding the basic personal importation limit ($20 or 20kg) or imported for commercial use may result in a hefty tax. Companies importing cheese have been hit with taxes and duties up to 245%! This has resulted in some attempting to smuggle cheese into Canada.
2. Detector dogs do not focus exclusively on intercepting illicit drugs.
General detector dogs are trained to detect narcotics and firearms. Agricultural detector dogs are trained to intercept food, plant and animal products. Currency detector dogs are trained to detect large quantities of currency circulating through the border.
3.The CBSA generally employs Labrador Retrievers and Beagles as detector dogs.
Aww! Labrador retrievers are used to detect drugs, firearms and currency, and beagles to detect food, plant and animal products. Good boy/girl!
4. Coffins may be imported into Canada tax-free under the condition they contain the remains of the deceased and that the funeral service and/or burial or cremation will occur in Canada.
Coffins are exempt from harmonized sales tax and from any duties under the Coffin or Casket Remission Order. They say the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. And this order proves that only the former can bring relief from the latter.
5. Some foreign nationals with criminal records are allowed entry into Canada despite laws concerning criminal inadmissibility.
Have you ever wondered how your favourite musicians, actors, athletes and other celebrities are allowed to enter Canada despite their criminal past? This doesn’t just apply to celebrities; some foreign nationals with criminal records can request that the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness make a declaration of relief. The Minister can grant relief on a case-by-case basis, and allow the individual to enter Canada if they are satisfied that the individual is not a security threat to the country. Rock on!
6. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), foreign nationals can be turned away from Canada as “non-genuine visitors”.
Despite not being inadmissible for criminality, national security or other reasons detailed under IRPA, border officers may exclude a foreign national as a non-genuine visitor if they determine they are not being honest about the true nature of their travels to Canada. Believe it or not, people do try to lie to border officers about their true intentions.
7. Border officers are not entitled to ask where you were or what you did on your travels while outside of Canada.
Canadian citizens and residents are guaranteed mobility rights in Section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Officers may only ask questions about your whereabouts outside Canada if they have already formed a reasonable suspicion that you were being dishonest in providing answers to primary questions. The same right does not apply to foreign nationals entering Canada. People from other countries will be asked where they are going and the purpose of their travels in Canada as routine primary questions. They are also not entitled to the same Charter protections as Canadians.
8. While goods being imported by Canadian citizens or residents can be refused entry, they themselves cannot be refused entry to Canada.
Canadian citizens and permanent residents have an unconditional right of re-entry to Canada after travelling abroad. This includes all COVID-19 travel restrictions; as a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, you are legally entitled to enter Canada. This does not exempt Canadians from having their goods examined and/or possibly being personally detained or arrested at the border though – this is still permitted under the Customs Act and the Criminal Code of Canada. This legal right to re-enter does not extend to foreign nationals (including student or work permit holders). Temporary statuses can be revoked, and you can be excluded from entering Canada or possibly deported if the grounds exist for CBSA to do so.
9. Under the Customs Act, border services officers do not require reasonable grounds to believe something criminal is occurring to conduct a search.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that it is reasonable to expect a lower degree of personal privacy at the border to search people and goods to keep Canada safe. Officers can conduct warrantless examinations whenever any level of suspicion has been formed that a violation of a law may be occurring. Whereas a public police officer would usually be required to have a warrant under the Criminal Code of Canada. In many cases, officers are also able to conduct random examinations in the absence of reasonable suspicion. In some cases, CBSA computer systems can generate random referrals of people and vehicles. It could just be your “lucky day” at the border – not exactly the kind of lottery we want to win!
Want to learn more? Patrick is designing a new course, Customs and Border Services (CRIM 3386), which will be offered in Summer 2022. The course will draw upon his research work on Canadian borders and experiences as a CBSA officer. Keep an eye out for this offering next summer! Can’t wait until next summer? Read more about Patrick’s research titled, Border security meets Black Mirror: perceptions of technologization from the Windsor borderland.