VANCOUVER – Chris Sweeney and his husband were driving home to Seattle after a recent trip to Vancouver when they were stopped at the border for more than two hours and threatened with thousands of dollars in fines for dangerous contraband in the trunk of their car.
Their suspicious cargo? Half a dozen Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs, each filled with a tiny plastic toy — a childhood favourite in Canada but an illegal choking hazard in the United States.
“I thought (the American border guard) had done his search and hadn’t found anything, and he was joking with us,” Sweeney, 35, told The Canadian Press in an interview Wednesday.
“He wasn’t joking.”
The popular German chocolate eggs are not sold in the U.S. because they are considered a choking hazard. They are also banned because the treats are considered adulterated food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Sweeney said a border guard told him and his husband that they could be fined $2,500 per egg, and then ordered them to head to the port of entry, where they waited for more than two hours.
“We really didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “I didn’t know if maybe this was some really important thing that I just wasn’t aware of and they were going to actually give us the fine of $15,000.”
But once inside, Sweeney said border staff later brushed off the offence and merely told them never to bring the Kinder Surprise eggs across the border again.
Mike Milne with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the movement of Kinder eggs across the border into the United States has been “an ongoing problem for years,” particularly during the Easter holidays.
Milne said officers do not usually fine travellers for carrying the chocolates, but they do normally confiscate them. Roughly 60,000 Kinder eggs were seized last year.
“Kinder eggs are prohibited just like narcotics are prohibited,” he said. “Our officers, if they encounter prohibited stuff, they’re subject to seizure.”
However, Sweeney said the contraband treats in his car were not confiscated, allowing him and his husband to share them with their family and friends back home.
He said the ordeal was a complete waste of time.
“If it was so important that we be stopped and scolded and threatened with thousands of dollars in fines, you’d think it would at least be important enough for them to take (the Kinder eggs), but they didn’t,” he said.
“Keeping the border secure is obviously important, but somebody needs to take a common sense look at this rule and probably just get rid of it.”
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous story indicated the men were held in a detention centre, when in fact they were held at a port of entry.