Canadian Border Agents Seized $166 Million In Undeclared Cash From Travelers

BC’s Inquiry Into Money Laundering might be wrapping up, but there’s still a lot of data to trawl through. One data set is from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and cash seized from travelers. Between April 2015 and March 2020, the agency seized well over $100 million in undeclared large cash holdings from travelers. This includes millions suspected of being the proceeds of crime, carried across hundreds of travelers.

Canada Seized Over $166 Million In Undeclared Cash 

Canadian authorities seized a mountain of cash from travelers who failed to declare (or outright concealed) at least $10,000. Over a period spanning 5 years, the CBSA seized $166.13 million from a total of 9,769 people. The amount peaked in the 12-month period ending on March 31, 2016 (2015/2016). Coincidentally that was the year before BC announced its non-resident speculation tax. The seizures rose steadily after the sharp dip, until making an abrupt drop in 2019/2020 for obvious reasons.  

Undeclared Large Cash Seizures By Canadian Border Officers

The amount of large undeclared cash holdings seized by Canadian border officers.

Source: CBSA; Cullen Commission; Better Dwelling.

Most People Get The Money Back — Even If It Was Concealed

The CBSA uses a tiered-level system when assessing a person caught smuggling cash. The first three are punishable by fines and you get your money back after paying the fine. Just the cost of doing business, I guess. The fourth level is the worst and means the officer has reason to believe it was the proceeds of crime. Here’s what each level generally means: 

Level 1: This is the most minor offense when there is no effort to conceal the money. The person caught also has to acknowledge what they did. Generally one can argue these people just forgot they had $10k+ in cash on them — a fantastic feeling, I’m told.

Level 2:  This is when the money has been concealed but not in a false compartment. It’s also an upgrade if you get caught with a Level 1, but it’s not your first time.

Level 3: This is when the money is concealed in a false compartment and it’s difficult to argue someone just forgot about the money.  

Level 4: Is when the CBSA officer determines the money was the proceeds of crime and the traveler won’t be recovering the money. It can be disputed since the officer’s opinion isn’t necessarily a fact. If cash concealed in a false bottom item isn’t considered suspicion of smuggling cash, one would assume it has to be fairly brazen to get to this point.

Canada Collected Almost $5 Million In Fines For Undeclared Cash

Canadian authorities collected millions in fines for level 1 to 3 seizures of undeclared cash over that period. The fees work out to $4.48 million over the 5 year period. It’s a pretty good deal for getting caught trying to slip $154.56 million past authorities. 

Number of Large Undeclared Cash Holdings Seized By Canadian Border Officers

The number of times Canadian border officers seized large undeclared cash holdings found on travellers.

Source: CBSA; Cullen Commission; Better Dwelling.

The remaining cash was forfeited due to suspicion of being the proceeds of crime. It works out to $11.57 million in cash over the 5 year period and 478 people. No need to reach for the calculator — it works out to an average of $24,200 per suspected criminal. Not astronomical but in $20 bills, it would look like 10 bundles of cash like you’d see in a movie briefcase and weigh the equivalent of enough Tang to mix 18 liters.

Toronto and Vancouver Is Where Most of The Money Was Seized

Greater Toronto is the number one destination for this cash. CBSA data shows $40.87 million, or about 25% of the cash seized over the five years, was in the GTA. Of that money, $5.16 million was subject to a level 4 seizure. Keeping with the visuals, the amount seized would have been enough for the down payment on 975 Toronto condos at the current benchmark price. This is also just the GTA. Southern Ontario, and its border crossings, are in another category entirely. 

Toronto and Vancouver Undeclared Large Cash Holdings Seized By Canadian Border Officers

The dollar amounts seized by Canadian border authorities in the Greater Toronto Area and Pacific region (BC). Most of BC’s seizures occur in the Greater Vancouver Area.

Source: CBSA; Cullen Commission; Better Dwelling.

The CBSA doesn’t have a Greater Vancouver region, but an aggregate “Pacific” region,  which includes BC border and port crossings. This region represents $50.76 million of the funds over 5 years or nearly 30.55% of the total. Of that cash, $7.68 million was subject to a level 4 seizure, suspected to be the proceeds of criminal activity. Though it’s billed as all of BC, the majority of the seizures occurred at the Greater Vancouver airport — so it might as well be a Greater Vancouver category. 

Worth mentioning, BC’s population is about 15% smaller than the population of Greater Toronto. Seeing a larger share of the cash seizures means the province is overrepresented, especially when it comes to level 4 seizures. It’s probably safe to conclude the province might have been subject to a higher level of criminal activity. 

The amount of money in total might seem small or astronomical, depending on your understanding of the data. In the grand scheme of things, the dollar value is a relatively small amount, in contrast, to say — mortgage issuance. Though one should consider the amount seized is typically just a fraction of the inflow that gets discovered.

Combine that with leverage and the fact this is just one of many sources and the issue gets much bigger. A hundred million here, a few billion there, and eventually you’re talking about some serious money. Especially considering only a small amount of it needs to flow into real estate to inflate prices due to the behavioral impact of the comp system.

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  • george 2 years ago

    might as well renounce this system and let the money flow… all is set up to encourage cash to come into the country, basically meaning Canada encourages human trafficking, laundering and all criminal activities. I read a comment here a while ago that the expression ‘coming to Canada’ or ‘moving to Canada’ in other language (guess which one) means ‘money laundering’. Country run by muppets….

    • Average Man 2 years ago

      I actually can’t guess which language, because at this point it’s so widely known how easy it is to launder money here, everyone is doing it.

  • questions guy 2 years ago

    do the math… it’s an average of $17k and $10k is the minimum.

    nothing too shocking or scary

    • Hugo 2 years ago

      It’s called smurfing. It’s usually not just a $10k brick hidden for one person to use being hidden on their person. It’s how criminal networks move large sums of cash with a low probability of loss.

      • D 2 years ago

        an even easier way. Buy legal tender gold coins with a $50 face value such as an american gold eagle/buffalo coin or canadian gold maple leaf that is an ounce of gold worth about $2200 canadian. 195 canadian maple leaf coins = $429,000 but its legal tender so the technical value is just $9500 canadian. Easy pea-zee

  • David Chan 2 years ago

    God bless this country, where you can hide tens of thousands from officers and they’ll give it back if you pay a fine. LOL

    • questions guy 2 years ago

      if you can demonstrate that you got the $$$ legally you probably can but I guarantee these folks are chosen for secondary inspection for years to come

  • Gerald Blais 2 years ago

    Simple solution: everybody who crosses the border must fill a form saying how much money they are bringing across. If a false statement, money confiscated. Period.

    • MC 2 years ago

      You’re already asked if you have more than $10k on your person. If you answer yes, they just want it documented that you brought it in. That’s it, not an issue.

      That makes lying about it very odd. If you’re lying and hiding it, you should be barred entry from the country if you’re visiting and have the money confiscated unless you can prove it was an honest mistake. I have a hard time believe using a false bottom container is a mistake though.

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