Penalties for importing presumed antique ivory carvings to Canada?
December 25, 2013 5:10 PM   Subscribe

An xmas present may be made of an animal controlled by CITES. I'm struggling through the ethical dilemma of whether to even keep it - respectful insight welcome - but am now wondering what the legal ramifications might be of even trying to bring it home.

I live in Canada and am visiting relatives in Europe (within the Schengen Area) and was given a very beautiful carving by a local relative while at theirs for the day. There's a substantial language barrier, but the translation was that it is either ivory or rhinoceros horn (translating relative couldn't be sure, and I didn't press at the time as I was in a bit of a daze) and was acquired in an antique sale. Only as we were on our way back did it occur to me that that isn't really a thing that is sold at this point and I started looking into relevant restrictions; sure enough, they are substantial and I wholly agree with trying to prevent the poaching of these animals. Still trying to decide whether I even want to keep it, but apart from that can find no information of the impact of these restrictions on individuals like myself.

I have no way to date the item but the base is of a dense wood unusual to me and nothing about it seems all that recent. I am uncertain the piece itself is real, though it feels quite unlike any plastic I know. I have absolutely no idea of its value. Zero paperwork was provided with it.

Have there been any known fines/prosecutions against individuals bringing single items of either horn or ivory into Canada or countries with a similar "attitude", especially from Europe, and particularly where there is no clear way to tell whether it is pre- or post-treaty? Advice on ways to date the piece or determine its authenticity would also be welcome!
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Rhino horn doesn't look remotely like ivory, FYI. A rhino's horn is actually made of densely compacted hair, and it isn't a suitable material for carving. It's also far too rare for anyone to use that way; the main market internationally for it is in "traditional medicine", for instance in China.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:05 PM on December 25, 2013

If you Google 'how to test ivory' you will turn up a number of sites describing what to look/smell for with ivory (or ???) and a burning hot pin.
posted by kmennie at 7:09 PM on December 25, 2013

Rhino horns aren't actually made of hair, from what I'm seeing, but yeah, the material also doesn't look like ivory, either.
posted by limeonaire at 7:57 PM on December 25, 2013

Would you be willing to post a picture via a mod? There is a possibility that the item isn't even ivory but is instead carved bone spliced together and polished to look like ivory.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:46 PM on December 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Happy to take a look if you can post some good pictures. Try to show any "grain" lines if you see any. I'm not an expert but I know a bit.
posted by antiquated at 10:03 PM on December 25, 2013

You definitely do not want to make a mistake here, or sneak the piece in under any pretext. You should get a definitive written statement from an expert in Europe that it is not from an endangered species source. The penalties for being wrong can be severe, and are covered by international treaty obligations to which Canada is signatory, meaning the border control folks don't have much discretion.

Be sure or leave it with a trusted friend in Europe.
posted by spitbull at 6:06 AM on December 26, 2013

The only advice I can offer is you don't want to fuck around with Canada's stance on ivory. In Alaska, you can buy a finished ivory piece from Native Alaskan artists made from ivory acquired through subsistence activity. However, you need to mail it home to yourself if your cruise ship stops in Canada because, seriously, they will seize it.
posted by Foam Pants at 9:41 AM on December 26, 2013

If caught, at minimum, you will lose the piece and have a very bad day. Typical punishments for CITES violations are fines (up to $300,000 per offense), but jail time is possible (up to 5 years). To be clear, you will never get the piece back---it's considered illegal property. I would expect you to have trouble entering the country in the future too.

They do actively look for such pieces, so the risk isn't trivial. All luggage is x-rayed now, and the Agriculture Canada inspection dogs have been known to find CITES-restricted items.

I'd not risk it personally.
posted by bonehead at 12:39 PM on December 26, 2013

« Older Altitude sickness and panic. Help me cope!   |   Good job offer's deadline is up, but a preferred... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.