Border search ordeal left marine company with lost customers and $2,500 bill

Border search ordeal left marine company with lost customers and $2,500 bill

When Canada Border Services Agency randomly picked Daniel Avis's shipment of inflatable boats for an off-site examination in April, he wasn't unduly alarmed

Two weeks and $2,500 later, the Seabright, N.S., man was in a panic over the financial hit and lost customers.

Now he wants the federal government to stop penalizing small business owners who find themselves targeted for similar scrutiny.

"I'm all for keeping Canada safe. I understand a random inspection of containers is probably a good thing. As an importer, if you always know there's a risk that your container could be chosen, that certainly could be a deterrent for people who are trying to do illegal things. I agree with that wholeheartedly," said Avis, who owns Seabright Marine Ltd., which specializes in inflatable boat sales.

"What I don't agree with is this charge being passed on to the small business owner who, in many cases, are very small businesses struggling to survive in a very competitive environment … without being burdened by this," he told the CBC's Maritime Noon.

Pricey random search

The container held about $100,000 of inflatable, Zodiac-style boats.

Avis said he spoke to a border services agent about the search.

"He explained to me it was a randomly chosen container. They were looking for weapons, drugs and other contraband and that I had been chosen for the most onerous level of inspection … which meant my container would be taken from the Halifax container pier to a secure warehouse in Burnside," Avis said.

"It would be totally unloaded, examined and totally reloaded,and then would be released to me, assuming nothing bad was found inside."

Avis said no contraband was discovered.

But the delay cost him customers and the financial penalty is harsh, he said.

"I strongly believe and everyone I've talked to about this in the last month, without exception, says keeping Canada safe should be coming out of our tax dollars, not from invoices being thrown onto small business owners who are trying to survive."

Transportation cost not covered

The CBSA says it covers the costs when it does searches.

"The CBSA pays for all costs associated with our services, including the inspection personnel, the equipment and the tools required," a department spokesperson said in an email.

But the agency acknowledges it does not pay for the transportation or the loading and unloading costs associated with taking the container to a "secure" facility.

"The facility operator generates the fees for presenting the goods for examination, to cover the cost of transportation to and from the examination facility and for unloading and reloading the container. The facility operator bills these costs to the shipping lines that in turn pass the cost to the importer."

CBC News has made a request to the Halifax Port Authority to find out the identity of the facility operator.

'This seems very unfair'

In the meantime, Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey is looking into the case.

"This seems very unfair to me. I've known Dan for a long time. He runs a good business."

Casey said he has never heard of the practice before.

He said he spoke this week to Ralph Goodale, minister responsible for border services, about the practice and is waiting for a response.

Avis wants others shipping containers to Canadian ports to know the risk.

"I would be surprised if this was resolved in my favour. I don't know how many years this has been the way it is. What my hope is, if people know about this, maybe we'll be able to get change for the future," he said.