Many travelers are unpleasantly surprised to learn that their failure to declare upon arrival or departure from Canada currency or other “monetary instruments” equal to or greater than $10,000.00 may result in a fine, or even seizure of their monies without terms of release.

Generally speaking, there are different levels of fines for failure to declare the money at a port of entry/departure. The real sting comes from the wholesale seizure of one’s money when a Border Services Officer (“BSO”) concludes, for whatever reasons he or she deems relevant, that the monies or monetary instruments are the proceeds of crime.

BSOs are given very wide latitude by the Customs Act to detain without charge any persons entering or leaving a port of entry, and search said persons and their luggage, including their computers and mobile devices, without first obtaining a warrant. These powers are broader than the police’s search powers in many respects.

Suffice it to say, BSOs have broad powers to find “indicators” that monies are proceeds of crime in the course of conducting their searches.

If the money is seized as proceeds of crime, you are not entitled to a day in Court to cross examine the BSO with respect to his/her search and seizure; you may only apply for a written review of the seizure carried out by an adjudicator in Ottawa.

If you disagree with the adjudicator’s decision, you may apply for a judicial review of the decision in Federal Court, where the Court will look at whether the adjudicator’s decision was reasonable.

By this time, your money is likely in the bowels of some ministerial account collecting interest in favour of the government. To see any of it back, you will have to file an appeal within the mandated time frame and make convincing submissions as to the source of the funds accompanied by supporting documentation. It’s not easy to accomplish to say the least.

In short: be aware and declare.

Failing that, call a criminal defence lawyer who has experience with the Act and who has a proven track record of winning these appeals.