The Department of Justice made a federal court case out of 10 apples, according to documents. Lawyers fought to uphold an $800 fine against a woman who carried fruit from her mother’s garden through Customs.
Elena Klevtsov of Toronto was fined in 2015 for failing to declare the fruit on her arrival at Pearson International Airport following a flight from Moscow. The $80-per apple penalty was issued under the Canadian Agricultural Products Act.
Klevtsov in 2016 successfully appealed the fine at the Canadian Agricultural Review Tribunal. “This is not a full murder trial,” the Tribunal wrote in its 2017 decision. Government lawyers successfully overturned the Tribunal’s dismissal in the Court of Appeal.
“The evidence before the Tribunal was that she ‘forgot’ the apples,” wrote Justice Donald Rennie. “Forgetfulness is simply a plea of mistake of fact, which is unavailable to her.”
Klevtsov could not be reached for comment. In an earlier submission, Klevtsov explained she was injured prior to boarding her flight in Moscow and was in pain and disoriented when questioned by Customs agents. “On October 8, 2015 my mother gave me snacks to eat on my way to the airport,” wrote Klevtsov. “Among them were some apples from Ukraine. I had them in my carry-on.”
“On the stairs to the airplane I was pushed by an unknown person from the back, and fell down the staircase,” Klevtsov continued. “I was found bleeding and could not stand up. I hit my head and nose. I had a concussions, scrapes and bruises.”
Klevtsov said she took painkillers during the flight to Toronto, and subsequently forgot about the apples stored in her luggage. “I did not mean to make a false statement in my declaration or lie about those apples,” she wrote. “If I had remembered them, I would have thrown them out. But at the time I was in serious pain, bleeding in my arm, and could not think properly.”
Klevtsov submitted four pages of medical records in evidence, including X-rays. Federal lawyers argued there was no proof she was confused. “The medical records relied on by the Tribunal do not qualify,” wrote Justice Rennie; “The records are not from psychiatric specialists.”
“The requirement of psychiatric evidence is critical,” wrote the Court. “It stems from the basic observation that courts, and most administrative bodies, are not comprised of medical experts.”
“She made the decision to board the plane rather than miss her flight,” said Justice Rennie. “On arrival at Pearson International Airport, she completed the Customs Declaration card, retrieved her luggage, and had a discussion with a Canada Border Services Agency officer. The officer’s notes of the conversation between her and the respondent do not indicate incoherence or disorientation.”
The department did not detail the cost of its appeal.