Cannabis oil in maple syrup bottles. Boxes lined with opium. Crabs stuffed in a box labelled “video lights.”
Canadian border guards seize an average of 44 drug shipments and 29 prohibited weapons every day, but occasionally they’re forced to confiscate something so unusual they have to tweet about it.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) encourages these light-hearted tweets to help spread the word about its policies, a spokesperson told Global News.
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For example, the CBSA has seized more than 100 baby turtles at the border in recent years. The most well-publicized incident occurred in 2014, when a man was caught at the Windsor-Detroit border crossing with 38 turtles strapped to his body.
Here are some of the most unusual items the CBSA seized from international mail and at the Canadian border in 2018, according to the agency’s regional Twitter accounts. These items turned up while the agency processed an average of 255,000 travellers and 240,000 mail items each day.
The Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) rules are clear: It’s illegal to bring foreign animals into the country without an import permit. A handful of species are not allowed into the country under any circumstances because they pose an invasive threat to Canada’s ecosystem.
That didn’t stop someone from trying to ship 100 Chinese mitten crabs to Canada on board a flight arriving at Calgary International Airport. CBSA officers found the crabs in a parcel arriving from Hong Kong on Oct. 24, according to the CBSA Prairie Twitter account.
“It was declared as video lights yet contained only crabs,” the CBSA tweeted.
Canada allows all kinds of fish and seafood to be imported with a permit, except for pufferfish and mitten crabs.
“These are one of the most invasive species in the world and cannot be imported into Canada,” the CBSA tweeted about the crabs.
Chinese mitten crabs present a “serious threat” to freshwater and tidal ecosystems in Canada, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. They’ve been spotted in Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and the St. Lawrence River, as well as in the coastal waters around San Francisco, Calif.
The crabs can grow to approximately 10 centimetres wide and are known to prey on fish eggs and aquatic plants in freshwater rivers and lakes.
“This creepy crustacean can migrate up to (17 kilometres) per day and will even travel on dry land to avoid barriers such as dams and levees,” according to a fact sheet from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Their voracious appetites can completely alter the aquatic food chain and cause a general decline in the species it competes with and/or consumes.”
The crab’s “reproductive tissues” are considered a delicacy in its native China, according to the Global Invasive Species Database.
The CBSA Prairie region reported seizing a bag full of cooked grasscutter rats at Calgary Airport on April 24.
The bag contained hunks of rat meat and rat bones.
Grasscutter rats — also known as cane rats — are large rodents from Sub-Saharan Africa. They are occasionally consumed as “bushmeat” in West Africa, where it’s common to eat a wide range of forest-dwelling wildlife.
“Bushmeat is an expensive meat throughout the region, and in many areas it is more expensive than meat of domestic animals,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Grasscutter can grow to be approximately 60 centimetres long and weigh up to seven kilograms.
Canada has tight restrictions on allowing raw or cooked meat into the country, out of concern that it might introduce new diseases or pests. The restrictions apply to all kinds of meat, both domestic and game.
The CBSA seized several bundles of sausages at the border this year, thanks in large part to its sniffer dogs.
Kelsey, a dog with the Greater Toronto Area CBSA, appears to be particularly good at finding sausages.
Two other GTA dogs found four kilograms of sausage hidden inside diapers in July.
The sausages were concealed in layers of plastic, aluminum foil, paper and diapers stashed inside luggage arriving from El Salvador.
The sausages were seized and destroyed.
A crossbow and a ‘blast knuckle’
The CBSA seizes hundreds of guns and thousands of prohibited weapons at the border each year, but most of those items tend to be run-of-the-mill firearms or knives. However, they’ll occasionally find a more exotic weapon worth tweeting about.
Border agents in New Brunswick confiscated a trove of weapons on Apr. 10, after searching a Canadian man’s home on a drug warrant. The man and his girlfriend were charged with attempting to smuggle prohibited weapons into Canada. The case is currently before the courts.
A gun, a switchblade and a crossbow were among the weapons seized.
In a separate incident, border agents and police in Northern Ontario intercepted a so-called “blast knuckle” that was shipped by mail to a suspect in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., from the United States.
A blast knuckle is a stun gun designed to be held like a set of brass knuckles. It’s capable of delivering up to 95,000 volts of electricity, the CBSA said.
A Canadian electrical outlet can deliver 120 volts. Tasers, which are prohibited except for police use, can deliver an estimated 50,000 volts in open air. All other shock weapons are prohibited in Canada.
West Coast border agents found drugs inside several unexpected items in 2018, including a bathroom scale and a karaoke machine.
The Pacific CBSA also discovered several packages of supposed Valentine’s Day chocolates being shipped out of the country with meth inside.
Border agents seized several maple syrup containers from a Hong Kong-bound traveller in July. The containers were found to contain cannabis oil.
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“Even after cannabis is legal, you can’t take it across the border in any form,” the CBSA Pacific account tweeted.
Pacific CBSA agents seized an opium shipment disguised as a drill in June, and intercepted a box lined with opium in May.
Several travellers paid hefty fines for failing to declare expensive purchases at customs, or for under-reporting the value of a high-end item.
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GTA border agents seized $2.5 million in gold jewellery at Toronto’s Pearson Airport in July, on the grounds that a traveller did not declare it. The CBSA can seize anything a traveller does not properly declare and can impose a penalty of 25-70 per cent of the value of the seized goods.
CBSA cargo inspectors spotted a case that was worth much more than its owner claimed in September. The import was declared as being worth $50, but GTA border agents determined it was worth approximately $14,000. The buyer ended up paying $8,700 in duties and penalties.
“Not declaring true value = not worth it!” the CBSA tweeted.
Cargo inspectors in Ottawa potentially ruined a Valentine’s Day surprise in February, when they fined someone for attempting to import a 10.19-carat diamond ring without paying duties on it. The importer was forced to pay $67,521 in duties and seizure fees.
“If you’re planning to propose during your holiday and purchased the engagement ring in Canada, be sure to take the sales receipt with you to present to a CBSA officer when you return,” the CBSA says.
The CBSA has also stepped up efforts recently to remind travellers that it’s illegal to bring cannabis across the border, even though recreational marijuana is now legal in Canada.
“Don’t bring it in, don’t take it out!” the Prairie branch of the CBSA tweeted, after turning away an American traveller caught with pot brownies at the Calgary airport.