Canada concertmaster in court to fight $120,000 Customs fine

Canada concertmaster in court to fight $120,000 Customs fine


norman lebrecht

January 14, 2014

We reported at the weekend that Yosuke Kawasaki, concertmaster of the National Arts Center orchestra in Ottawa, had his violin and bows seized by Customs on entering Canada and was facing a C$120,000 fine to release them.

The seizure took place in 2012 and the violin and three bows were released several weeks later, after Yosuke made an interim payment of $20,000, plus tax, for their release. But the full fine is still hanging over his head.

The matter has now come to light as Yosuke is taking it to court, claiming that Customs wrongfully seized his instruments.

CBS has the court documents here. This could be an important test case for all musicians seeking to enter Canada.



  • Sanda Schuldmann says:

    This is crazy!

  • Doug says:

    Whether you agree or disagree with the government of Canada in this case, bear in mind that the economy of Canada relies to a great extent on the trade that takes place with their neighbors to the south. Imagine this scenario: a Canadian resident crosses the border to make a $250k purchase in the US, paying (or perhaps not) sales taxes in the US and not paying sales taxes in Canada. How does this affect the Canadian economy and tax revenue situation in Canada? Do we not want the government of Canada–the one we want to subsidize the arts–to have a reliable and healthy revenue of taxes? Or would we rather have the forces of a ‘totally free market’ rule the day here? Or do you think they should make an exception for musicians purchasing instruments alone?

  • CDH says:

    It seems far more likely that Kawasaki entered the US with his instrument in order to play there as a guest artist than to go to the US to purchase a violin. Are you suggesting that travelling musicians pay this tax each time they accept a foreign gig?

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      It shouldn’t matter what ‘seems more likely”. That’s about the last thing we should want – customs officers randomly determining what they think “seems more likely”. There have to be clear and well defined rules for how to import/export goods, travel with valuable instruments, what documentation to carry and how to declare the objects etc.

      Customs officials should just check if everything is in order and then use their stamps. They should not have to, or be allowed to, make judgments based on what *they* think “seems more likely”. That just opens the doors for a lot of random nonsense and problems.

      I just watched a few programs about the international art scene, forgeries, stolen art, smuggling etc and there seems to be a lot of that going on. So it is good that there are strict customs rules when it comes to importing or traveling with valuable objects, such as art or old instruments.

  • BK says:

    The smartest, and simplest thing to do when traveling with an instrument, especially a valuable one an artist uses as their livelihood is to create a paper trail of ownership that is irrefutable. 1. Travel with insurance papers that prove ownership in whichever country it is coming from 2. Get your local violin shop to issue a document saying, “This is so and so’s violin, it will not leave their side, is the tool of their trade and is NOT for sale by any means.” Photos help 3. Declare it upon arriving to wherever you are going. 9 out of 10 times, if it’s not for sale and shown as being personal property nothing happens. In that 1 out of 10 times that one winds up with a border guard on a power trip, the matters are settled quickly with the help of a supervisor who knows better as long as steps 1 and 2 are followed. As someone who travelled to Germany at the height of their violin witch hunt , it was very simple. It was declared, papers were shown and all in all it took 5 minutes. I don’t understand how a musician will travel with 400 grand worth of old woods (That increase in value as they years go by) and not have any document claiming ownership, should anything happen. One wouldn’t travel anywhere without a passport, if a violin is a companion one can’t live without, logic would dictate a passport be made for it when traveling abroad. But then again, some fools still put their Strads and Del Gesus in light plastic BAM cases because they have the fitness (and sometimes mental) level of a tub of cheese curds….then fall on them breaking them into a million pieces on the steps of insert concert hall here______________________

  • ed says:

    More power to Mr. Kawasaki in asserting his rights (and protecting his dignity).

    Many, if not all of the points made by the commentators here are factually or technically correct, but if fraud, theft, or trafficking in stolen goods or avoiding paying duty on the purchase of goods from abroad were really the issue, a competent inspector exercising good judgment within the scope of his authority could have been easily, and SHOULD have, let Mr. Kawasaki amend his declaration and provide whatever verification was required either right away, or if he didn’t have it at the time, then later.

    So, for this case, maybe, a warning or a light slap on the wrist would have been warranted, but the amputation of a limb to punish this man for failing to put it all down on paper? Please! If that were the standard we’d have no bankers, or politicians….or Customs Agents, for that matter. Or if we did, they’d be the walking dead in a Tod Browning movie.)

    (As an afterthought, I wonder if Canadian Customs agents also get rewarded for the number of people they nick or the dollars they can extract- e.g., by earning a promotion, or higher pay, etc. It’s just a thought.)

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    BK says:

    January 14, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    “As someone who travelled to Germany at the height of their violin witch hunt , it was very simple. It was declared, papers were shown and all in all it took 5 minutes.”

    So apparently, it wasn’t a “witch hunt” – they just wanted people to go through the correct process in order to make sure valuable instruments aren’t smuggled in to be sold without paying duties but if someone showed up with the right documents and made the right declarations – no problem. That’s exactly the way it should be. Clear and unambiguous rules to make it quick and easy for legitimate instrument traffic to go through while still keeping an eye on illegal imports.

  • Jim says:

    This situation is truly outrageous. Mr. Kawasaki was returning home to Ottawa (where he resides and is concertmaster) with his own instrument after performing abroad. Something must have gone horribly wrong! he was most certainly not attempting to commit a crime.

    We all wish this wonderful musician the best in resolving this.

    This is also yet another reminder to always carry sufficient documentation when traveling with an instrument. It is not difficult and goes a long way to enable customs officials to do their job without hassling us.