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Just curious: What happens if customs agents find a prohibited item in your luggage?

Just curious: What happens if customs agents find a prohibited item in your luggage?

Jul 17th, 2004, 02:44 PM
  #1  
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Just curious: What happens if customs agents find a prohibited item in your luggage?

Last week, when traveling by train into Canada, customs agents at the train station directed my family (myself and 2 teenagers) into a room, where our possessions were searched. All we had were 2 backpacks and a small tote bag. Every single item in each bag was removed, examined, squeezed and/or sniffed. They even opened my makeup and film canisters, and went through my kids' CD cases. Thankfully, we didn't have anything objectionable, but what if we had? Suppose they find something prohibited, or worse yet, illegal, in someone's bags? What happens then?

A couple I talked to in the train station told me we had been "profiled," because my 2 kids are teens.

While in Vancouver, my 19yo daughter bought a tiny bottle of Kahlua (and tasted it), since she is of legal drinking age in Canada. Upon our return to the U.S., the bottle showed up on x-ray, was removed, sniffed and tagged. We were told it would be returned to us on the train before we reached Seattle -- which it was.

Having made many trips across the border from Texas into Mexico, I was pretty surprised by all of this.

Back to my original question, what happens if customs agents find something prohibited in your bags? Are they only looking for drugs or explosives, or are other things prohibited too?

Donna
dwoodliff is offline  
Jul 17th, 2004, 03:22 PM
  #2  
 
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I think what you were told about being "profiled" and thus searched is silly. It happens to everyone at some point, and to some of us regularly. If customs agents were NOT doing thorough random checks then they'd be criticized for being too lax.
Reading about your experience is kind of reassuring to me, especially after reading the thread and article on the Europe board about "more terror in the skies".

Prohibited and illegal items are the same thing. I think maybe you mean restricted items, not prohibited.

Anyway, here's how I understand things.
If something is found that's illegal, then appropriate charges are laid. (However, Canada is far more tolerant than the US of small amounts of marijuana. We just really don't care that much about it - they'd confiscate it but charges are pretty unlikely). If it's something restricted, like some weapons, and hasn't been declared, then it would be confiscated and you could be charged.

It's interesting to read what you wrote about crossing the US/Mexican border with no checks, especially in light of the fact that Canada gets a lot of flack from the US about our border being too porous.
taggie is offline  
Jul 17th, 2004, 03:50 PM
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You actually were checked at the Mexican border, you just didn't realize it. While you are waiting in line, narcotic and exposive detection dogs are working the line. When you approach the checkpoint in a vehicle, your license plate is being checked against a computerized list of plate numbers wanted or of law enforcement interest. While you are speaking to the border official, s/he is assessing you as a potential violator and their senses get quite finely tuned with experience.

Regarding the "prohibited" items - it depends on what they are and, to some extent, on your attitude. The penalties can range from confiscation to arrest and prosecution.

Canada is particularly vigilant against handguns. I recall a case several years ago where an FBI agent tried to carry his weapon into Canada on a family vacation. He was arrested and prosecuted. If I recall correctly, Canadian courts agreed to lower the charge to a misdemeanor so he would not lose his job but he was convicted.

Of course, some of the mid and far east countries are far more byzantine in their penalties for smuggling.

Whether you get caught in a "profile" search or just happen to get nabbed in a random search, the potential penalties far outweigh any benefits to be gained by trying to sneak something prohibited across a border.
dwooddon is offline  
Jul 17th, 2004, 08:45 PM
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It depends on what kind of contraband you are discussing. Bring apples into the US for example is not allowed.
What happened, the apples went into a trash can at the X-Ray machine.

Last year, beef was on the no no list.
It too went into the garbage bin, if you had any.

Items like opium and derivatives are a little more serious. Like jail terms.
bob_brown is offline  
Jul 18th, 2004, 03:54 PM
  #5  
jtp
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
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May, my 78 year old Mother, a registered nurse was stopped when her manicure scissors were detected in her carry-on bag. She was told she "should have" checked the bag if she knew she was traveling with a wepon, they were removed from her and thrown into a large "garbage can" type container. She was searched and allowed to continue.
jtp is offline  
Jul 19th, 2004, 01:16 PM
  #6  
 
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Just reading up on customs for our trip to Banff in a few weeks, and from what I understand Beef and any products containing US Beef are still banned. As well as temperate fruit (apples, pears etc).

Tropical/Citrus fruits can be taken into Canada, but can not come back to the US, and Apples can come back but not be taken in???

I think what happens to you depends on what they find. If you are driving over, and have a checklist in plain view of what is prohibited yet have a bag of apples in the back seat they may have cause to do a invasive search. If you don't know that beef jerkey is prohibited they will probably let everyone in you car have a piece to eat immediatly and throw the rest away. (remindes me of the family trip when I was 5 and a strange man searched our car at a checkpoint in Arizona I was scared and my mom promised he wouldn't take anything--but he did that MEAN OLD MAN took all of our apples!! Just left us with 3 to eat right away--still have scars)

Anything that is illeagle (drugs, guns, etc) will be cause for legal proscution. Your daughters Kahlua is illeagle for her, but any adults over 21 can bring alcohol into the US (up to a certain amount), so you could have said it was yours with no problems.

If you are nice to customs officials, respect their authority, and know at least most of what the restricted items are you should be fine. But if you arent...watch out they could tear your car aprart (literally doors, hood, trunk in pieces) and leave it lay on the tarmac with no appologies, no help and no regrets.

You probably were targeted for a search, not only because you had teenagers but because you were traveling light. I had that happen to me once and the agent said that on sunday its their easy day so they choose people with no or very little luggage??? How's that going to stop a terrorist--do they carry no baggage. I today's airport it seems more the norm to take more carry-on luggage than allowed.
josie23 is offline  
Jul 19th, 2004, 01:17 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Sep 2003
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Just reading up on customs for our trip to Banff in a few weeks, and from what I understand Beef and any products containing US Beef are still banned. As well as temperate fruit (apples, pears etc).

Tropical/Citrus fruits can be taken into Canada, but can not come back to the US, and Apples can come back but not be taken in???

I think what happens to you depends on what they find. If you are driving over, and have a checklist in plain view of what is prohibited yet have a bag of apples in the back seat they may have cause to do a invasive search. If you don't know that beef jerkey is prohibited they will probably let everyone in you car have a piece to eat immediatly and throw the rest away. (remindes me of the family trip when I was 5 and a strange man searched our car at a checkpoint in Arizona I was scared and my mom promised he wouldn't take anything--but he did that MEAN OLD MAN took all of our apples!! Just left us with 3 to eat right away--still have emotional scars)

Anything that is illeagle (drugs, guns, etc) will be cause for legal proscution. Your daughters Kahlua is illeagle for her, but any adults over 21 can bring alcohol into the US (up to a certain amount), so you could have said it was yours with no problems.

If you are nice to customs officials, respect their authority, and know at least most of what the restricted items are you should be fine. But if you arent...watch out they could tear your car aprart (literally doors, hood, trunk in pieces) and leave it lay on the tarmac with no appologies, no help and no regrets.

You probably were targeted for a search, not only because you had teenagers but because you were traveling light. I had that happen to me once and the agent said that on sunday its their easy day so they choose people with no or very little luggage??? How's that going to stop a terrorist--do they carry no baggage. I today's airport it seems more the norm to take more carry-on luggage than allowed.
josie23 is offline  
Jul 19th, 2004, 01:58 PM
  #8  
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Josie 23:

Thank you.
Thank you.

Actually, the Kahlua was taken because it was open. I knew it was legal for my daughter to purchase it in Canada, but not to possess it in the U.S., so we buried it deep in my bag, so the bottle wouldn't get broken. (Actually, I'd forgotten I took 2 bags -- one was our change of clothes.) The Kahlua wasn't the only bottle in my bag, and when the bag went thru X-ray, the agent asked if I had alcohol bottles. I told him "yes," and he said "are any of them open?" That's when he opened the bag and removed the bottle. I'm surprised they could tell that the bottle was open on the X-ray; maybe they could tell it wasn't full. I dunno. -- Donna


dwoodliff is offline  
Jul 19th, 2004, 01:59 PM
  #9  
 
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Donna, here is the Canada Border Services Agency's web page entitled "Customs Information for Visitors to Canada"

http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/E/pub/cp/...html#P170_9790

That website, however, doesn't address what you can or cannot take back into the United States.

Hope that helps.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Jul 19th, 2004, 06:07 PM
  #10  
 
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Those x-ray machines are very high resolution. Apples will show up easily.
So will the shape of liquor bottles, which to the experienced eye are distinctive.

When you go through the metal detectors, they can easily pick up the staples on a passport or the metal part of glasses frames. My new metal hip makes the alarm ring off the hook so to speak.
bob_brown is offline  

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