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Hunters and other U.S. residents taking firearms into Canada could experience unexpected delays - and even confiscation of their weapons - if they are not familiar with new Canadian regulations that went into effect Jan. 1.
Visitors hunting in Canada or just passing through who don't have a valid Canadian firearms license must declare their firearms by completing a non-resident declaration form and paying a $50 (Canadian) confirmation fee. This temporary license is valid for 60 days and may be renewed at any time during a 12-month period without paying an additional fee.
"We're kind of concerned about Americans who might come away a little angry because they're surprised by the fee or, worse, they have a weapon confiscated," said Ken Koelsch, U.S. Customs port director for Juneau. "An American wanting to get such a weapon back wouldn't have much recourse except maybe getting in touch with the congressional delegation."
Formerly, U.S. citizens arriving at a border crossing and in possession of a weapon prohibited by the Canadians had the option of not crossing the border and keeping the weapon.
But now, "our instructions are to have the gun abandoned to the Crown," said Gary Burgess, superintendent of Canadian Customs Operations in Whitehorse.
Canada's long list of prohibited weapons includes short-barreled rifles and handguns, small-caliber handguns, replicas and assault rifles.
"The short answer to what a prohibited weapon is is any weapon that's designed to kill people rather than animals," Burgess said.
Visitors to Canada who don't know whether the weapons they plan to take into the country are prohibited can find out by calling Canadian Customs at Whitehorse, 867-667-3943. A complete list of prohibited weapons is available at the Canadian Firearms Centre Web site: www.cfc-ccaf.gc.ca., as are the border declaration forms, which Burgess recommended be filled out - except for the signature - ahead of time in order to avoid border-crossing-point delays.
U.S. Customs' Koelsch also expressed concern that U.S. guides or outfitters flying into Canada and carrying the requisite firearms in their survival kits might run afoul of Canadian law.
"There aren't any special circumstances allowing firearms into Canada without registration," Burgess said. Fliers coming across the border are required to report to a manned port - such as Whitehorse - to complete registration forms and register weapons, he said.
"But we are encouraging frequent U.S. fliers to acquire a Canadian license, which is valid for five years," he said. Applicants for a Canadian license must take an approved two-day training course in Canada.
Asked about Alaska hunters and fishermen who in their travels might cross into Canadian territory - as is often the case with Juneau residents flying or boating up the Taku River - Burgess said: "That's a difficult question. The book answer is that they have to have the temporary license or report to a manned crossing point to register."
Canadian wildlife officials would likely inquire of the visitor about the proper registration certificate, he said.
Burgess said a "fair number" of visitors had filled in the forms and paid the fee at the Beaver Creek port of entry, at mile 1,202 of the Alaska Highway. With 6,000-7,000 gun importations a year, Beaver Creek is the second busiest such port in Canada.
So far, Burgess said, "we've only had a couple of complaints."
Fern Chandonnet can be reached at fchandonnet@juneau empire.com.