[A Canada Border Services Agency officer watches during a tour of the Infield Terminal at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Dec. 8, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch]
Knorr Caldo de Pollo soup mix may just be the most expensive food item Raymond Kolochuk has ever had to pay for.
The St. Catharines, Ont., man was vacationing in Mexico two years ago and brought back a small tub of the powdered chicken soup mix that he just loved.
But when he arrived back at Toronto Pearson International Airport in March 2014, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) withheld his luggage that contained the soup mix.
The next day he received a phone call from the agency telling him his luggage was still in customs and that the soup mix he brought home was against regulations.
According to the CBSA, Kolochuk violated section 40 of the Health of Animals Regulations. The section outlines that it is prohibited for people to import an animal byproduct, manure or a thing containing an animal byproduct into Canada.
Kolochuk was given two options: either pay $400 to get his things back or he could contest it. But if he contested and lost, he would have to pay $800.
He was surprised by the penalty, to say the least.
“We don’t live too far from the border and we’ve done our groceries in the (United States) many times,” Kolochuk told Yahoo Canada News. “Not once did we ever have a problem. They’ve never asked us what kind of groceries we bought or anything. It just seems like overkill. Why not just give me a warning and take it away?”
Thinking he had a shot at winning his case, Kolochuk decided to contest it.
“I thought I had a chance because I had no idea that this product was a violation,” Kolochuk said. “The instructions on what you can and cannot bring in are not always clear or specific so I thought this wouldn’t be a problem because it was only powder.”
So after fighting several months for a date, a hearing was finally set for March 1 at the Canada Agricultural Review Tribunal, where Kolochuk would argue his case against the CBSA and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
The only problem was Kolochuk was out of the country for three months when hearing notices were sent to his home.
And because he was not there to argue his case, Kolochuk was ordered to pay the $800 within the 30 days following the hearing.
According to the tribunal’s decision, the violation is not a criminal offence.
The document also says Kolochuk has the option to apply to the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food in five years to have the violation removed from his records.
“This wasn’t firearms or drugs or even fresh fruit, vegetables or meat,” Kolochuk said. “It seemed like an overreaction and overkill on their part. I don’t know what happened here or if someone was having a bad day but I’m flabbergasted.”
The CBSA told Yahoo Canada News in an email that several containers of undeclared chicken soup mix were seized from Kolochuk’s luggage.
“Many travellers are unaware that all food products must be declared to CBSA Border Services Officers and certain food products can introduce harmful pests, viruses and diseases to Canada,” the agendy said. “When undeclared food products are found, they are seized and the traveller may have to pay a penalty. If a traveller is unsure whether a good is allowed, they should declare the item to an officer.”
Kolochuk has decided to appeal the tribunal’s decision and will be filing papers at the Federal Court of Appeal.