*2024 Results: Approx. 99% of Mark Zinck's clients avoided a criminal record (conviction) for charges of theft, fraud, assault, mischief and threats.

Airport related criminal charges in Canada

The discovery of warrants, in-flight incidents, and CBSA searches often result arrests at the airport

Airports are one of the most common places that police lay criminal charges in Canada. There is so much criminal activity occurring that some airports have a mini police station at the airport itself. For example, the Peel Regional Police have an Airport Division at the Toronto Pearson Airport. Criminal charges at the airport do not just involve incidents on flights and drug smuggling, many people are arrested by the CBSA when entering Canada because they have outstanding warrants (which perhaps they were not even aware of), or because contraband was discovered during a search.

Discovered to be wanted on a warrant for outstanding criminal charges

When the CBSA discovers that a person is wanted on a warrant the traveller will be arrested and searched. CBSA will then contact the RCMP or local charging police force (which could be anywhere in Canada or the US) and ask them for instructions. The local police force that is looking for the person (OPP, Toronto Police, Peel, York, Halton, etc.) will then be contacted and asked if they want customs to continue to hold the accused in custody or release them.

If the accused is released they may simply be told to contact the local police to turn themselves in or they may be served with court paperwork such as a Form 6 Summons, Form 9 Appearance Notice, or Form 10 Undertaking. They may also be held in custody for a bail hearing. It all depends on the wishes of the charging police force.

Factors such as the nature of the alleged crime, the accused’s history and ties to the community, the locale of the charges (could be anywhere in Canada), are all taken into consideration when deciding to hold or release the traveller. Even if the traveller is released and told to contact their local police their arrest is imminent. They are being criminally charged and their case will go to court. This is no different than the police calling a suspect and asking them to come to the police station to be charged. If they fail to show up, the police will simply go to their home or workplace and arrest them there.

Many people do not know the police were looking for them prior to returning to Canada

Ontario, and particularly in Toronto and GTA, has many immigrants who frequently travel back and forth between Canada and their home country (India, China, Iran, etc.). They often leave for long periods of time and may have no idea that they are being criminally charged in Canada. This is often the case when a witness reports an incident to police after they have left the country. Common offences where the accused was unaware of an existing warrant include:
  1. Assault (s. 266)
  2. Sexual Assault (s. 271)
  3. Uttering Threats (s. 264.1)
  4. Mischief (s. 430)
  5. Theft (s. 334)
  6. Fraud (s. 380)
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Such charges often arise from incident police reports that were filed after the incident occurred (as opposed to a 911 call in the moment). Sometimes they are domestic in nature relating to a spouse, ex partner, or other family member. Also business disagreements can sometimes turn into fraud or theft charges if police believe an allegation rises to a criminal level. The accused is usually aware that they had a dispute with someone but may not know there was a warrant out for their arrest.

Charges relating to crimes allegedly committed at the airport or on the flight itself

Whether a person shoplifts at the airport gift shops/duty free area, gets physical or threatens staff, fights with fellow passengers, smokes on the plane, causes a disturbance, etc. they will be arrested and charged at the airport. The case will be held in the jurisdiction that the airport is located. For instance, since the Toronto Pearson Airport is located in Peel Region, all criminal cases will be handled in Peel at the Brampton courthouse (7755 Hurontario Street). This means that even if the accused lives in Vancouver and is travelling on a connecting flight to Ottawa, their case will be dealt with in Brampton.

For those who live outside of the GTA or even Ontario itself being charged in Peel can be quite an expensive hassle. While as of 2022 remote court appearances help ease this process, they often will still have to attend in person for fingerprinting/mugshot at a later date and also possibly for court (though their lawyer can normally attend most court appearances for them).

Anything that happens at the airport, and particularly on the plane itself, is considered an extremely aggravating factor. People are expected to be on their best behaviour when travelling by air because it is considered a high security risk environment. While smoking or vaping indoors may normally attract a provincial fine, if it happens on a plane or at the airport the person is also likely going to be charged with criminal mischief. Airport and flight related charges are always prosecuted much more harshly in court. Behaviour that in other settings may be overlooked can easily lead to a criminal record and jail sentence if it happens on a plane or at the airport.

Charges relating to the import (smuggling) and possession of contraband under the Criminal Code, Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and Customs Act

There is no legal requirement for the CBSA/Customs to justify or provide reasons for searching a person, their luggage, or electronic devices at the border. The CBSA will specifically target certain profiles but also conduct completely random searches as well. Nobody is immune from intrusive searches of their person (strip search, x-ray) or electronic devices. They do not need a warrant or reasonable and probable grounds.

In addition to Criminal Code offences, those who are caught in possession of illegal contraband at the airport usually by CBSA/Customs may be charged with CDSA drug offences or criminal importation under the Customs Act. Both the CDSA and the Customs Act charges are criminal offences punishable by jail and a criminal record. Apart from drug related offences, charges relating to the importation and possession of child pornography and money laundering and common at the airport.

Child Pornography charges at the airport under CC Section 163.1

With regards to child pornography, since the CBSA has broad powers to search anyone entering Canada (whether or not they are a Canadian Citizen), they often will search through pictures and videos on electronic devices. This includes computers, external hard drives, cell phones, etc. Unlike the police, they do not need a warrant or a reason to conduct these searches at the border. As a result, many travellers are pulled aside at the border and have their devices searched for child pornography particularly if they fit a specific profiles (ie. single men travelling from a known child sex abuse source country).

Those who refuse to provide passwords to allow access will have their devices seized for a forensic analysis. The police will attempt to brute force crack the passwords for encrypted devices which may or may not be successful. Even if the device cannot be cracked the accused can be ordered by the court to provide the password and jailed for disobeying a court order if they refuse to do so. Please see our site relating to child pornography and child sexual offences for more information on these types of charges.

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Your case will be defended by a fully licensed Practicing Lawyer of the Law Society of Ontario. For more information about our lawyer, click here.

We provide our clients with:
  • Flat fee pricing
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  • Vulnerable Sector records suppression help
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* Please note:

If you are not a paying client, we cannot answer questions and provide assistance about avoiding jail and/or a criminal record, employment background checks, IRCC/immigration applications and status, or travel to the U.S. in the future. This includes those who have already retained other counsel and those whose cases have already been completed.

We only can respond to calls and emails relating to current Ontario criminal cases. Please see our FAQ for a listing of the courthouses we service.

Are you a lawyer? If you are defending a criminal case and are looking for expert advice regarding possible defences, case strategies, and information release management call us at: 647-228-5969.

Please note: We do not accept legal aid certificate cases. All clients are handled on a private retainer only.

*2024 Results: the percentage of 99% of clients avoiding a criminal record (conviction) stated on this page is based solely on Lawyer Mark Zinck's personal representation of approximately 2000 criminal defence case clients as of the year 2024. Past results are not necessarily an indication of future results.


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   Criminal Information:

   We provide:
  • Flat fee pricing
  • 99%+ non-conviction success rate
  • U.S. travel advice and information
  • Help with related immigration/IRCC issues
  • Employment background check advice and services
  • Fingerprints and records destruction services
  • A clear goal of getting the charges dropped without a trial
  • Vulnerable Sector records suppression help
  • Timely resolutions
  • Lawyer/client privilege
  • Experienced, focused counsel