The only shipment of goods seized by Canadian authorities since Ottawa banned imports made with forced labor in 2020 was later released after the importer successfully challenged the seizure.
This means Canada has yet to identify and seize a single shipment of coerced foreign goods despite pledging to ban all such imports under the renegotiated NAFTA.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government last year touted the ban as part of its efforts to tackle human rights abuses in Xinjiang, China, where rights groups and media say that the Chinese government has committed serious human rights abuses against the region’s predominantly Muslim Uyghur population. , including forced labour.
In October 2021, the Canada Border Services Agency seized a shipment of women’s and children’s clothing from China after it arrived in Quebec. The agency regularly cites this interception when journalists ask it to identify whether it has stopped any imports made with forced labor.
But now the agency says the goods were finally allowed into Canada because the importing company convinced the federal government that the clothes were not the product of forced labor. “Based on documentation submitted during the review process, it was determined that the goods in issue did not meet the conditions of tariff item No. 9897.00.00 and the shipment was released,” said Rebecca Purdy, gatekeeper. CBSA spokesperson in a news release.
The CBSA declined to identify the importer in question, citing the confidentiality provisions of the Customs Act. The shipment was released to the importer in “late winter 2022,” according to CBSA spokesperson Patrick Mahaffy.
Ottawa amended the Customs Tariff Act on July 1, 2020 to ban imports of forced labor pursuant to a commitment made under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), l trade agreement that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Canada’s failure to identify and seize goods made by forced labor since then stands in stark contrast to the US government’s record. Additionally, in fiscal year 2021 alone — October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021 — the United States intercepted more than 1,400 shipments of goods made with forced labor from various countries, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
It was only last year that then-foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Canada did not want to be “complicit in abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.” Forced labor and forced relocation to work in other Chinese provinces are the latest step in a Chinese government-led effort to exert control over Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, whom Beijing has described as infected, critics say. by extremism.
Lori Waller, communications officer for Above Ground, a human rights organization that first learned of the CBSA’s release of the detained shipment, said Canada’s inability to identify and seizing goods made with forced labor raises concerns about how seriously Ottawa takes its commitment to ban the importation of such goods.
“Nobody expects that in two years Canada will block as many goods as the United States. But not at all, not a single expedition? This suggests that Ottawa has not made enforcement of this ban a priority,” Waller said.
“Maybe more resources need to be invested. Maybe our customs regulations need to be changed to ensure strict enforcement. Wherever the problem is, it is surely fixable.
Liberal MP John McKay, who is sponsoring a bill to toughen Canada’s approach to forced labour, said Ottawa’s performance to date is concerning. He called the contrast in seizures between Canada and the United States a “shocking differential” and one that cannot be explained solely by the much larger volume of trade between the United States and other countries, such as China.
Mr. McKay is the sponsor in the House of Commons of Bill S-211, which has already passed the Senate and would require all companies doing business in Canada to prepare annual reports for the Minister of Public Safety on their channels. supply. Under the bill, every company would have to submit a report that it has reviewed its supply chains and certifies that they are free of forced labor. The certification would be signed by a senior manager of the company who would take personal responsibility by signing it.
Ottawa defends its record to date by saying it takes time to gather evidence to justify enforcement action. The CBSA says Canada is still in the early stages of implementing the ban on forced labor while the Americans have had a law banning such imports for many decades.
Last year, the United States also enshrined in law a reverse burden of liability rule that requires those shipping goods from Xinjiang to prove that those items are free of forced labor. This means that the US government officially considers all goods produced in whole or in part in Xinjiang to be produced with forced labor and prohibited from entry unless importers can prove otherwise.
The CBSA said it does not have the legislative mandate to enforce a blanket ban on imports
Ms Waller, from Above Ground, said Canada needed to consider such a “precautionary approach” to imports from a particular region.
“If the goods are most likely made with forced labor, that should be reason enough to detain them. It wouldn’t set anything in stone; importers would still have the opportunity to show that they are not products of slavery to have them released,” Ms Waller said.
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