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WestJet's new policy on dogs appears to have been based on inaccurate document


The Calgary-based WestJet airlines announced changes Thursday evening to polices regarding the import of dogs, insisting they must travel in cargo, citing Canadian Border Services Agency policy. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

WestJet appears to have based a new policy about dogs on a document that the Canada Border Services Agency confirmed Saturday is not official policy.

The Calgary-based airline, in a blog post that has since been deleted, announced Thursday it would change its regulations surrounding the import of dogs into the country, citing a CBSA decision.


The decision it cites appears to have been based on a CBSA document that circulated in early 2018 — but it's unclear where that document came from.

"This is not a WestJet initiative, but one that we are subject to regulation on," read WestJet's post.

In a statement provided to CBC News on Friday, WestJet said it released the communication to ensure guests were aware of existing CBSA requirements.

"[Based on CBSA policy], animals travelling into Canada as commercial imports are required to travel through cargo," the document reads.

No such policies at the agency exist.

In a statement provided to CBC News, a spokesperson with the CBSA confirmed that no requirement by either that agency or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency exists.

"There is no requirement … that rescue dogs must be shipped as cargo in order to meet import requirements, nor do we determine the method of travel for animals, [for example], by crate or cargo hold versus airplane cabin, et cetera," the statement reads. "It's the intended purpose of the import that determines its clearance requirements, not its shipping requirements."

A dog coming to Canada for adoption accompanied by a person that is not the owner is considered a commercial import, the statement reads, and is processed as a commercial import at the port of entry.

"Again, this is not a requirement to ship a rescue dog as cargo, it's only about which counter will process them upon arrival at the airport," the statement reads.

The announcement from WestJet had provoked outrage from animal rescue groups, who said the regulations would likely cause many Canadian shelters to end their organizations' dog import programs.

Many rescue groups bring in dogs from other countries. The dogs travel as the checked baggage of a volunteer escort or rescue worker in the plane's hold or, if the dog is small enough, in the cabin.

According to these groups, transporting animals through cargo would cost organizations three to four times as much money. In addition, cargo service is not available in a variety of export points, such as Puerto Vallarta.

WestJet apologizes for confusion

WestJet said in an emailed statement Saturday that the company apologizes for any confusion its blog post has caused.

"Our objective was to raise awareness that the classification of a personal import versus a commercial import comes with different CBSA requirements," WestJet's statement read.

This effort was to ensure our guests did not incur future CBSA fines or have rescue animals be turned away at customs as a result of not having the proper paperwork. It is the guest's responsibility to understand and meet the import requirements, for both personal and commercial animals … There has been no change to WestJet's policy or fees. WestJet, nor CBSA, require animals travelling as commercial imports to go as cargo."

2018 document

It's unclear how the 2018 CBSA document initially reached airlines' inboxes, but it has caused trouble at airports in the past.

"What happens every once in a while is this memo pops up in someone's inbox at an airline," said Leo Salloum, a lawyer who has been representing the Rescue Dogs Advocacy Coalition (RDAC). "It's tough for the CBSA too, because they're this huge organization and they don't control the airlines.

"So what we have to do is scrambling around, proving to the airlines that this memo was actually never any type of policy guidance of any kind. It was like a draft that got leaked, as far as we can tell. We don't even know who wrote it."

A copy of the CBSA memo that has circulated at airlines since 2018, provided by the Rescue Dogs Advocacy Coalition. (Rescue Dogs Advocacy Coalition)

The RDAC, an advocacy group that brings rescue dogs into Canada for adoption, has been working over the past two years to try to debunk the memo. Initially, the organization believed it was legitimate.

Salloum said the group developed relationships with management at the CBSA, trying to determine when the policy change would be implemented, as they believed such a change would be destructive to rescue organizations.

Members of RDAC became suspicious of the lack of proper notice and unusual protocol in the document.

"There was a lot of discussion, and so as part of that discussion one of the things we learned was that this memo sort of came out of nowhere. It's not signed by anyone, it's not official policy, it's not a changed plan in policy," he said. 

Trying to determine its origin, the group filed a freedom of information request with the CBSA, which similarly came up empty.

"The response was, they can't figure it out either," Salloum said. "It was a targeted request about this one memo saying, are there other drafts, can you figure out who the author is, what date was it commissioned, what was it a part of — and we got nothing. No one knows where it came from."

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