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Damaged goods

Canadian Border Services don't just search and destroy, they charge you for this pleasure.


Remember Lucy Chapman? She's the disabled seven-year-old who is supposedly banned for life from entering Canada. A quick recap: After the Chapman family tried to enter Nova Scotia for a vacation last July, the Canada Border Services Agency ruled they would have to return to Britain. Their story touched off a controversy about the rights of the disabled. It also sparked other complaints about the CBSA.

Hollie Ferrall, who now lives in Fall River, emailed to say that when her family emigrated from Wales last January, she and her husband went through hell at Stanfield International Airport. "No sympathy was given to us when we came over with a toddler and a baby, waiting in Immigration for over two hours at night with two screaming, hungry children. We were treated like we were guilty of something." In a later email, Ferrall, who is a Canadian citizen, described how CBSA staff ignored people waiting in long lineups. "The whole time we waited, there were CBSA staff milling around talking, looking at my screaming children as if they were a nuisance."

Ferrall was even more upset a few weeks later when her household goods finally arrived. The CBSA had targeted her container for inspection. When the delivery workers opened it, loose items tumbled out. In a letter to the CBSA, Ferrall complained that the container had not been repacked properly. "Boxes containing heirloom china and clearly marked extremely fragile were torn open, contents falling out, and located under other heavy items in the container." She estimates damages at more than $1,500. "My sideboard, which is irreplaceable in Canada...was severely cracked and smashed. A vase which was appropriately wrapped was also seriously damaged...What infuriates me is the way in which my goods were ransacked, and to add insult to injury, I was charged $815 for this pleasure." Ferrall enclosed photos of her damaged goods and asked the CBSA to reimburse the $815 fee charged by the private cargo-handling company that transports goods to the government inspection facility.

The CBSA responded with a "don't blame us" letter. The agency said it didn't notice the damages Ferrall reported when it inspected her goods using X-ray technology. It claimed the cargo-handling company is responsible for unloading and reloading inspected containers and said she should take her complaints to them. Ferrall was incensed. "The container was repacked in their examination facility and they should have monitored how the whole process was, and still is, being carried out," she says.

Victor Woo agrees. Woo, the proprietor of Halifax's Baan Thai restaurant, also paid an $800 fee after the CBSA inspected his 40-foot container from Thailand this summer. It contained Thai food and furnishings for a new restaurant he's planning to open. Woo was heartbroken when he opened his container after the CBSA inspection. An expensive teak statue of a human-sized, bird-like goddess, which took 18 months to carve, had a hand, ear and part of its necklace broken off. A box of expensive forks was also missing. A CBSA official told Woo to take his complaints to the cargo-handling company. "What kind of response is that?" Woo asks. "The cargo company is nobody to me," Woo told the official. "You are the government and you are searching my container...Being a taxpayer and a small businessman, it's not how I want to be treated by my government." Woo sent an angry email to the prime minister's office, which forwarded it to Stockwell Day, the minister responsible for CBSA. "I never heard back from him," Woo says shaking his head. Woo, who drove a truck for 12 years in Vancouver, says he knows how goods get treated in warehouses. He maintains that his container was not repacked properly after the CBSA inspection. "I'm only a citizen who doesn't have too much power," he says. "Citizens need to know how people are being treated by this government agency."

Photos of Woo's and Ferrall's damaged goods are posted here


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