Marine Container Examination Process

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has a mandate to ensure that all goods entering Canada do not pose a risk to the health, safety, and security of Canadians, while facilitating the free-flow of legitimate goods.

The vast majority of marine containers shipments are processed and authorized by the CBSA to enter Canada without delay. A small percentage of containers is selected by the CBSA for examination, based on a comprehensive risk assessment and random selection, using state of the art technology to facilitate the examination process at no cost to the importer.

The commercial examination process consists of key stakeholders with distinct roles in moving containers into Canada. The CBSA is responsible for the examination of marine containers, but does not control, influence, or charge for the:

The following diagram identifies the commercial marine shipping container examination process:

Marine container importation continuum

Most common examination

Marine container examination process

Most thorough examination

Frequently asked questions

Why is my container being examined?

Due to the size of marine containers, they are a common way to transport illegal goods. Smugglers target all importers and use elaborate techniques to hide their prohibited material.

Shipping lines provide the CBSA with information about the content of their cargo before containers arrive in Canada.

CBSA officers apply their experience in targeting and analysis to determine whether a container should be examined for contraband. However, an examination is not an accusation of wrong-doing. The CBSA also conducts examinations to ensure compliance with Canada's food, plant and animal regulations, including wood packaging and soil contamination.

What is the expected time frame for a container examination?

The CBSA's Marine Container Examination Service Standard states that the CBSA will strive to conduct a marine container examination within 24 hours. The 24 hour period includes the time for the CBSA to perform a physical examination of goods contained within a marine container located at one of the container examination facilities in Prince Rupert, Vancouver, Montréal or Halifax. The time will be calculated from the moment the CBSA begins the examination until the examination is completed and goods are made available for warehouse workers to reload the container.

Note: This service standard does not include weekends or holidays, fumigant testing and ventilation procedures, container reloading times and containers that are resultant for contraband.

What legal authority does the CBSA have to examine my goods?

The examination of goods is authorized by the Customs Act.

Why does the CBSA test my container for chemicals?

The CBSA requires testing of all marine containers for fumigants before examination. Examples include methyl bromide, phosphine and benzine.

What do I need to know about fumigated containers?

Fumigant testing identifies chemical levels contained within marine containers prior to the execution of an in-depth examination. Chemical levels found to be above acceptable limits require the container to be ventilated in order to reduce elevated chemicals levels prior to the examination. This service standard will encompass the time a container is placed in ventilation until the container is removed from ventilation and awaiting an examination.

The Fumigant (Ventilation) Service Standard will ensure marine containers do not remain within the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) fumigant (ventilation) process for extended periods of time. The Service Standard will be utilized for containers located at marine container examination facilities in Prince Rupert, Vancouver, Montreal, and Halifax only.

Note: The service standard will not include weekends, statutory holidays, or the initial testing of the container, container movements, and examination times.

More information on Testing and Ventilation of Marine Containers.

Why is my shipment being held for examination by another government department?

The CBSA administers over 90 acts and regulations on behalf of other government departments (OGDs), including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada, etc. These OGDs are responsible for establishing the import requirements and the CBSA is responsible for enforcing these policies as they apply at the border.

Why was I charged a fee for my container to be transported for examination?

The CBSA and the transportation industry have agreed that the best option for examining marine cargo containers for contraband is to use a specialized central examination facility. Teams operate more efficiently using high-tech equipment to conduct thorough and timely examinations in a secure environment.

It is the responsibility of the shipping industry to select warehouse operators for the transportation, unloading, and reloading of containers at centralized examination facilities. The facility operator generates the fees for presenting the goods for examination, to cover the cost of transportation to and from the examination facility and for unloading and reloading the container. The facility operator bills these costs to the shipping lines that in turn pass the cost to the importer.

The CBSA pays for all costs associated with our services, including the inspection personnel, the equipment and the tools required for marine container examinations.

Who is responsible for damage to a container or its contents?

Any damage to a container or its contents is unfortunate. The party responsible at each stage of the shipping and examination process is responsible for damages caused while under their control. If you have concerns regarding damage to a container or its contents, your first point of contact should be the shipping line.

CBSA officers conducting container examinations do so with the utmost care, carefully noting the condition of the goods, any visible damage, and the depth and intensity of the examination. CBSA officers use X-ray machines and high-tech equipment to make the examinations less intrusive and to reduce the risk of damage.

Why does the CBSA examine shipments for soil contamination?

Any amount of soil and/or related matter from any offshore country, including the United States, presents a risk for pest and disease introduction, which can cause harm to Canada's economy, environment and natural resources.

Why is the wood packaging material in my shipment being examined?

CBSA officers examine wood packaging material to ensure it is free of living pests and to be certain it has been treated, marked, or is accompanied by a valid Phytosanitary Certificate.

What can I do if my goods were damaged?

In the event that your shipment has been damaged, it is the carrier's responsibility to contact the appropriate party to initiate a claim. Please consult the following scenarios:

  • If the shipment was damaged during transportation, please contact your carrier to discuss their claims procedure.
  • If the shipment was damaged during the offload/reload, please contact the offload service provider to begin the claims process. The offload service provider is responsible for damage they cause and will note any damage in writing.
  • If the shipment was damaged during examination by the CBSA, please contact a superintendent at the port of entry to begin the claims process. The CBSA will note any damage caused, in writing.

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