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Importing Egyptian Mummies (or Mummy Linens)? Don’t!

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Canada has many rules which govern the import and export of property. However, importers and exporters are often not aware of the many supplementary laws which govern the trade of specific goods and services across international borders. One of these often-overlooked areas are the rules governing rare archeological/cultural artifacts.

A recent case from the United States has highlighted the pitfalls involved with importing and exporting rare cultural artifacts from Egypt.

In May, US Customs and Border Protection officers seized five jars of ancient Egyptian mummy linen which were illegally transported from Canada into the United States through Michigan from Sarnia, Ontario.

According to the release, the mummy linens were intercepted on a Canadian mail truck that was selected for examination, which revealed five jars of the ancient fabric. The artifacts are believed to be from the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt which lasted between 305 to 30 BC.

Crucially, the importer was not able to prove that the linens were removed from Egypt prior to April 2016, which is a violation of the US Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.

Canada has similar rules which protect sensitive cultural artifacts from import and export. The Cultural Property Export and Import Act regulates the trade of cultural property in and out of Canada. According to the Act, the “cultural property” is defined as property described in the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict(The “Convention”), which includes moveable or immoveable property that is of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people.

For cultural property originating in Canada, section 4 of the Act empowers the Governor in Council to establish a Canadian Cultural Property Export Control List. The list, laid out in the relevant regulations, includes artifacts related to Aboriginal peoples of Canada, like ancient arrowheads, historical artifacts related to Canada’s settlement by non-Aboriginals, and fossils.

Cultural property that is subject to the control list is only allowed to be exported under limited circumstances. Under section 11, when a person applies for an export permit for an object subject to the control list, a government-appointed expert examiner must investigate the object to determine if (1) the object is of outstanding significance by reason of its close association with Canadian history, its aesthetic qualities, or its value in the study of the arts or sciences; and (2) if the object has such a degree of national importance, that its loss to Canada would significantly diminish Canada’s national heritage. Where the object in question meets both arms of this test, the Act prohibits export.

For cultural property outside of Canada, the Act explicitly prohibits the export of cultural property from a state party to the Convention (in addition to importing said property to Canada) unless its export conforms for the applicable laws of that territory or is necessary for the property’s protection or preservation. It further empowers signatories of the Convention (or states with a cultural property agreement with Canada) to seek an order from a Canadian court for the return of the property in question.

Beyond cultural property, Canada also regulates the international trade of endangered species as a signatory of the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES), as implemented through the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act. Like the rules governing cultural property, these provide an additional set of legal hurdles for importers and exporters to navigate beyond Canada’s basic customs framework. In this case, for the movement of live endangered species and goods derived from the bodies of endangered species.

The bottom line is that importers and exporters need to be extra vigilant of the rules in both Canada and other countries for products that they deal in lest they run aground on supplementary rules which govern the trade of those items. Importers/exporters should seek professional advice to ensure that prospective acquisitions are compliant with all of Canada’s trade rules to avoid situations like the unfortunate case of the confiscated mummy linens.

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Guest Tuesday, 19 November 2019

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