We have been contacted by clients who have returned to Canada (usually from France) and they have brought a commercially sealed jar or two of “fois gras de canard” or “fois gras de canard entier”. Unfortunately for these clients, they have been sent to the Secondary Inspection Area and the Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) officer seized the fois gras and imposed a penalty. The CBSA officer usually issues a “Notice of Violation at the Point of Entry” and takes the position that there was a violation of section 40 of the Health of Animals Regulations. The CBSA officer records the violation as a “serious violation” and often imposes a penalty in the amount of $CDN 800.
The CBSA Officer then informs the person that they may pay 50% of the penalty at the point of entry – but the CBSA officer does not inform the person that they will give up all rights to appeal the determination that a contravention occurred. This information is contained on the Notice of Violation at the Point of Entry form, but the traveler is not given the opportunity to read the form or the traveler does not read the form after a long flight.
If the person pays the reduced penalty, the contravention stays on their record and they are sent to secondary examination more frequently. If the person is a NEXUS Card holder, often the NEXUS Card is cancelled for a period of 6 years.
The problem is that fois gras and other items are actually permitted and the CBSA officer has made a mistake. Sometimes, the fois gras is properly declared and the person has provided an incorrect answer on their E311 Declaration Card. There should not be a violation recorded when a violation has not taken place – but you cannot clear your name when you pay the 50% penalty.
What should have happened?
If you know you will purchase something like fois gras when you are traveling, take printouts from the AIRS database. What food items are permissible to enter Canada can be searched on the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) database. This is the same database that the CBSA officers use. However, certain items are not in the AIRS database using the words you might search. For example, if you search “fois gras”, there are no results. If you search “duck liver”, you will find that 20 kilograms of commercially packaged duck liver (in sealed tins or sealed jars) may be imported into Canada from France for personal consumption without an import permit. Make sure you determine hat you may import the goods and take a printout of the AIRS database search with you so that you have evidence to provide to the CBSA officer. Alternatively, search the AIRS database before returning home with purchased food items.
If you get into a dispute with a CBSA officer over an item, let them seize the item and do not pay the penalty. Indicate that you will file an appeal as you believe that the good may legally be imported into Canada.
Ask to speak to the CBSA offcier’s supervisor (nicely). You should have the opportunity to make things right at the port.
However, if you want to get home an do your research, let the CBSA officer seize the food item and take your paperwork home with you. File an appeal when you have the supporting documents.
If the CBSA confiscates your NEXUS Card, it is difficult to get your NEXUS Card reinstated. When you pay the 50% penalty, you cannot remove the contravention from your record. That being said, we have been successful in getting NEXUS Cards reinstated, but the specific facts of a particular circumstance are relevant.
If you run into difficulty and your NEXUS Card is cancelled, consider filing a request for decision. Here are some articles we have written: