If you’re an American and planning to visit Canada, whatever you do, leave your guns at home! Every year hundreds of Americans show up at the Canada-U.S. border with guns or rifles, and either fail to declare them to Canada’s border guards (Canada’s Customs and Border Services Agency (CBSA)), or deny having any firearms with them knowing that they’re carrying guns on their person or have guns and rifles in their luggage or cars.
For Americans who do this, a painful process lies ahead if they’re caught. If they’ve arrived from the United States by car, the car is typically seized and impounded and will not normally be released until a significant administrative fine has been paid. Ironically, this is the least of their worries. Their real problems begin when they’re arrested and charged with serious firearms offences for possessing firearms in Canada in breach of the Canadian Criminal Code. Most Americans would be shocked to learn that entering Canada with a loaded, semi-automatic pistol such as a Glock 17 constitutes a crime which can be punished with a minimum three year jail sentence.
Americans who have been arrested can expect to be detained and brought before a judicial officer for a bail hearing. Canadian law enforcement will likely oppose their release unless they can pay a substantial cash bail, sometimes up to thousands of dollars. If they are released, they won’t be welcomed back to Canada with open arms to continue their trip. They’ll be turned around and sent home and allowed to return to Canada only to attend court for their gun charges.
Sadly, Americans do not realize the extent to which American gun laws differ from Canadian gun laws. While gun laws in the United States are among the laxest in the Western world, Canadian gun laws are among the strictest. More importantly, for travel purposes a gun permit is not like a driver’s license. An American’s permit to own and carry firearms under state or federal laws in the United States is under no circumstances portable to or valid in Canada.
Once charges have been laid, it is not easy to resolve them without serious consequences. Significant fines are common and jail time is not unheard of, even for Americans of otherwise excellent character such as members of the United States military. After being found guilty of gun offences in Canada, Americans are likely to be found “inadmissible” to the country under Canadian immigration law, and will have difficulty gaining entry again.
The message for Americans coming to Canada is simple. Leave your firearms at home. If you forget to do that and find yourself at the Canadian border with firearms, do not lie to Canadian officials about your firearms. Your only option is to advise border officers that you have firearms you forgot to leave behind and ask for permission to return to the United States immediately. If you do anything else, you are liable to end up in a whole lot of trouble.