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Legal Developments: Customs Act Offences

Zolotow v. Canada (Attorney General), [2011] F.C.J. No. 1020


Every person entering Canada has to declare the goods they are bringing with them and the value of those goods (including gifts). If a person makes false or deceptive statements about those goods, or tries to evade payment of duties imposed, they can be charged pursuant to section 153 of the Customs Act. Once the person is charged, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will seize the items that were not declared properly. Once a person has been given a notice of seizure from CBSA, they have 90 days to file a notice of objection to the seizure or the goods. A failure to file written notice within the 90 days may result in the forfeiture of goods to the Minister.


In Zolotow, one of the issues the Ontario Federal Court considered was whether Mr. Zolotow’s objection to the seizure of his goods was barred by statute. Mr. Zolotow was a resident of Las Vegas and a professional gambler. Mr. Zolotow entered Canada through Pearson International Airport in Toronto. He attempted to clear US customs the same day and it was discovered that he had 20 uncut diamonds which he failed to declare. He was ultimately charged by the Canada Custom and Revenue Agency with having breached section 153(c) (willful or attempted evasion of duties) of the Customs Act. Mr. Zolotow was provided with a Seizure Receipt which valued the diamonds at $886, 000.00 and set out that Mr. Zolotow had 30 days to file written notice to appeal the forfeiture. (The Customs Act now allows for 90 days to file written notice.)


Mr. Zolotow did not file written notice within the prescribed time period and the diamonds were eventually sold at an auction three years later. Mr. Zolotow was statute barred and lost any claim to the diamonds.

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