Vancouver International Airport tops in seizures of smuggled cash

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Vancouver International Airport's local RCMP detachment arrested a woman booked on a domestic flight to Regina after finding cocaine stashed inside a DVD player in her luggage.

It gives new meaning to the term cash flow.

Vancouver International Airport leads the country in the amount of undeclared cash being seized from incoming travellers, mostly from China, the Vancouver Sun reports.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) seized more than $15 million in cash at the airport, Canada's second-busiest, from April 2011 to June 2012, according to data obtained by the Sun under an Access to Information request.

By comparison, seizures at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, which has almost double the 17.5 million travellers YVR sees each year, amounted to only $6.6 million over the same period.

All money in the form of cash, traveller's cheques or bank drafts over $10,000 must be declared when travelling into or out of Canada, the Sun noted.

[ Related: Suitcases of Chinese cash flooding Canada's borders ]

CBSA officers made 887 seizures at Vancouver's airport in the period covered by the Sun's data with the vast majority — 592 — involving passengers arriving from China. At Pearson, by contrast, agents seized $1.4 million from travellers coming from China, while $2.6 million was seized from departing Canadian passengers, the Sun said.

The largest single seizure was made last June, when a Chinese passenger came in with $177,495.50 in undeclared cash.

The traveller was fined $2,500 and handed back the confiscated money. Penalties typically range between $250 and $2,500 in such cases, the Sun said.

CBSA officer Danielle Getzie, who has worked at Vancouver's airport since 2007, told the Sun travellers can get very creative in trying to smuggle cash, from stashing it under clothing to concealing it inside the suitcase's lining. Deliberately hiding it like that can trigger a higher fine.

“If it’s in the form of cash, even if you’re using large notes, that’s quite a bit of paper,” she said. “There’s also stocks, bonds, bank drafts — all that kind of thing.”

Canadian law requires travellers to report cash over $10,000 so the CBSA can report it to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FinTrac), which attempts to track funds destined for terrorist or criminal enterprises.

The Sun said the Hurun Report, a Chinese financial research organization, estimates wealthy Chinese keep at least 19 per cent of their assets outside the country.

Canada is a popular destination because unlike the United States, travellers are likely to get their money back after paying the fine. If you're caught trying to smuggle cash into the United States, you face the possibility of a fine up to $500,000 and up to 10 years in prison. And you lose the money.

[ More Brew: Michael Moore reasserts Canadians don't lock their doors, then backtracks ]

Despite the predominance of Chinese travellers connected to the cash seizures, Getzie told the Sun agents do not target any one nationality.

Much of the smuggled cash is thought to be destined for the real estate markets in Vancouver and Toronto.

The Huffington Post noted in January that a 2011 CBSA audit suggested the rate of cash seizures had been declining between 2009 and 2011.