It’s rare to meet a traveller who has never been stopped and questioned by a customs official. Although customs screenings may be the cause of one or two hold-ups in our past, they are critical to our country’s security. Customs officers work to protect Canadians by ensuring visitors abide by the laws of the country, and do not attempt to bring restricted items into Canada. No risky item, no matter how small, escapes the scrutiny of a customs professional. Foods such as meat are constantly monitored and often barred from import into Canada because of the potential diseases it carries. Pests are also a big concern. High-risk plants – even a Christmas tree – will be confiscated at Canadian customs if they come from regions associated with high-risk insects.
Customs must also function as a preventative barrier against crimes like the illegal smuggling of drugs and alcohol, and firearms trafficking. Law enforcement colleges train customs officers how to make the correct judgements and take effective precautions when screening visitors entering our country. To get an idea of the scope and importance of this career, take a look at some of the daily duties of a customs officer in Canada.
Performing a Detailed Luggage Search
One of the basic duties of a customs officer is to search the luggage of travellers entering the country. Travellers may be coming in via airports, land borders or sea ports. A main reason for checking luggage is to ensure that no products banned in the country are allowed to breach our borders. An additional reason is to ensure that people are paying the appropriate taxes for items that exceed personal allowance guidelines. Many travellers are stopped and fined because they have neglected to declare certain possessions, including cash, on the forms provided for that very purpose. A graduate of dental school or practicing doctor is probably aware of pharmaceutical restrictions at customs – and it is common for travellers to have their medications confiscated for not carrying them in their original containers (or declaring them in full). An early childhood assistant should also be wary of certain items like baby walkers which are actually banned in Canada, although for the most part legal in the rest of the world.
Customs officers may also search ships, aircraft or vehicles to examine goods being taken into the country, and to check for smuggling. Smuggling in this case can include not only goods, but illegal immigrants.
Not only must customs officers screen for banned or smuggled items, they also must check travellers’ documents and passports to ensure no inadmissible person is being granted entry into the country. A customs officer may question a traveller on their immigration clearance, or whether they have any currency or cheques in their possession. For travellers who have been detained at customs, it is the job of the customs officer to question them. This could include asking about any illegal items they have tried to bring into the country, previous arrests, or any false claims they have made on their documents.
Making Arrests and Charges
In some cases, travellers coming through customs may already be wanted on outstanding charges in the country they are trying to enter. It is the job of a customs officer to identify these suspects and turn them over to the police. While awaiting additional law enforcement back-up, the customs officer is responsible for the arrest and detainment of anyone deemed to be high-risk to Canada’s security, or proven guilty of a recognized offence.