Import of cultural property
As outlined in the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, it may be illegal to bring cultural property into Canada, such as antiques or fossils, whose sale or export is banned or controlled by the country of origin.
On this page:
- Importing cultural property
- Avoiding import delays
- Detaining cultural property
- Returning cultural property
- Canada's international commitments
- Penalties for illegal import of cultural property
Importing cultural property
Individuals and businesses are responsible for the cultural property they import into Canada. Objects that may be sold in a foreign shop, market or online may not always be legally imported into Canada. Information about the export of cultural property from foreign states is available from the following:
Avoiding import delays
Cultural property imported into Canada may be detained by the Canada Border Services Agency if it does not have proper paperwork. To prevent import delays:
- ensure that the cultural property has been legally exported from the foreign state; and
- ensure that it has all the necessary documents, such as export permits.
Detaining cultural property
When cultural property is detained upon import, the Movable Cultural Property Program:
- verifies if the cultural property originates from a state that is co-signatory (co-signed) to the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property;
- asks an independent expert to determine if the cultural property is authentic and its likely origin;
- verifies if the cultural property is protected by the foreign state; and
- informs the foreign state and provides an opportunity for that state to request its return.
If a foreign state requests the return of the cultural property, the Program will ask the Attorney General of Canada to initiate an action for recovery. An action for recovery is the mechanism established by the Act to return cultural property to a foreign state.
Returning cultural property
View the list of the returns of cultural property to their country of origin.
Canada's international commitments
As a signatory to two international conventions, Canada is dedicated to the fight against illegal traffic in cultural property. These international conventions are:
- the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property; and
- the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its First and Second Protocols.
The import of some cultural property may also be restricted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Penalties for illegal import of cultural property
It is a criminal offence to import cultural property into Canada that has been illegally exported from a foreign state. Penalties include fines, imprisonment, or both. Canadian authorities may impose penalties on individuals who:
- import cultural property that has been illegally exported from a signatory state to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The property may also be confiscated and returned to the country of origin;
- export cultural property from occupied territories that are signatories to the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, even if the cultural property is not imported into Canada.
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