Distributing rapid tests acquired abroad? Health Canada says it's against the law

·2 min read
A shortage of rapid tests for COVID-19 may prompt some Canadians to consider looking abroad for them — but that might not be a good idea. (Sonya Varma/CBC - image credit)
A shortage of rapid tests for COVID-19 may prompt some Canadians to consider looking abroad for them — but that might not be a good idea. (Sonya Varma/CBC - image credit)

Demand for COVID-19 rapid antigen tests has outstripped supply in Canada, but having friends or family send tests here from abroad could get people in trouble with the law according to Health Canada.

In a statement to CBC News, Health Canada said that while Canadians are permitted to bring a personal supply of medical devices into Canada — defined as 90 days' worth — one cannot ship devices into the country for distribution to their friends and family members.

"Testing devices imported by individuals should only be for their own use and should not be further distributed," the statement reads. "In cases where commercial size imports are being made, shipments are subject to regulatory licensing requirements."

"Personal use" is defined as being used for yourself, a person or animal who is under your care, or a person or animal with whom you are travelling.

But Health Canada says if you bring tests or other medical devices into the country and distribute them, you are a commercial importer in the eyes of the law — and that requires a license.

Even if money is not exchanged, distributing medical devices is still considered a sale by Health Canada.

The department also clarified that one cannot ask a friend located abroad to bring them rapid tests — or ask a friend to ship them rapid tests through the mail.

American President Joe Biden recently promised to provide half a billion rapid tests free of charge.

Possible consequences

So what might be in store for those who violate the regulations? It depends.

"Based on the severity of the risk posed by regulatory non-compliance, Health Canada determines the most appropriate level of intervention," a document from Health Canada reads.

Those interventions can include anything from the government sending a letter to the offender, seizure or destruction of the items, or in some cases, referral to law enforcement, among others.

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson from Canada Border Services Agency confirmed that it enforces the Health Canada regulations.

"Upon arrival in Canada, all international mail items are presented to the CBSA for processing where Border Services Officers examine mail to determine admissibility and identify goods subject to duties or taxes," the statement reads.

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