A woman says her father's poor memory, not a desire to skirt the rules, resulted in Canadian authorities cancelling her trusted-traveller card after she allegedly failed to declare several thousand dollars in cash at the border.
Mei Dong, a Chinese citizen with permanent-resident status in Canada, is asking a court to rule that she has not breached the law against money-laundering and terrorist-financing.
She also wants a declaration that the Canada Border Services Agency acted unlawfully in revoking her membership in the Nexus program, which helps travellers move more quickly between Canada and the United States.
The dispute is playing out in Federal Court as the House of Commons considers a bill to create a new watchdog aimed at resolving beefs against the border agency more efficiently.
Dong's allegations have not been proven in court and federal officials have yet to file a response. But her statement of claim says her problems began in August 2018 upon returning to Canada after a family trip to Austria. She was there with her father, who lives in China.
Before she left, Dong's father gave her two envelopes and told her one contained US$3,000 and the other US$6,700.
She says her father put US$3,000 in one of the envelopes so she could return it to a colleague back in Canada. The colleague had previously given the money to her father during a trip with her family to China to thank him for generously hosting them.
As they were good friends, her father felt he could not accept the gift, and gave his daughter the money when they were together in Europe so she could return it to her colleague.
Upon arriving at the Toronto airport, Dong, 36, declared that she was carrying currency worth more than $10,000 in Canadian funds, a requirement under the law.
During a secondary customs examination, a border officer asked why she had US$12,735 — more than the US$9,700 she had declared.
Dong says the officer seized the currency and her Nexus membership card without giving her a chance to explain. The money was later returned to Dong on condition she pay a $250 fine but her Nexus card was subsequently cancelled.
Dong, who worked for a global management-consulting firm at the time, appealed the officer's actions to the border agency's internal reviewers, insisting it was all a misunderstanding.
She says that due to her father's "old age and poor memory," he did not remember he had already placed US$3,000, intended for Dong's colleague, in the other envelope containing the US$6,700. As a result, he gave his daughter twice the amount he had wanted to return, in two separate envelopes.
"As Ms. Dong trusts her father, she accepted what she was told were the amounts contained in the two envelopes without questioning or counting the amount herself," the statement of claim says.
She argues the officer unreasonably refused to exercise his discretion to extend her the benefit of the doubt.
In February, the border agency's recourse directorate rejected her appeal of both the currency and Nexus-card rulings.
Dong, however, insists she fulfilled her obligation to report the importation of currency exceeding the legal limit at "every opportunity."
"Ms. Dong never attempted to conceal the amount she was carrying."