Here we go again: Canadian Customs seize concertmaster’s violin and bows

Here we go again: Canadian Customs seize concertmaster’s violin and bows


norman lebrecht

January 11, 2014

We are informed that the Canada Border Services have impounded a violin and three bows belonging to Yosuke Kawasaki, a Japanese-American violinist who has served since 2007 as concertmaster of the National Arts Center orchestra in Ottawa.

Yosuke is accused of failing to declare them and is facing a C$120,000 fine.

Start the outrage now.


UPDATE on upcoming Court hearing here.


  • ed says:

    What an embarrassment for Canada (Harper and his gang being the other)- Ottawa is, after all, its capital.

    • ed says:

      To all the naysayers, it’s become too easy these days for Canadians to forget they live in a national security state (thanks to Harper and his gang). Or, is it that those who fold their hands in prayer and obeisance already know it too well? Admittedly, one needs more information, and there are procedures to follow for Customs- even heaven forbid, in Canada- but if it turns out that this was Kawasaki’s violin before he left Canadian shores, then given that he is concertmaster of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, yes, it is an embarrassment, big time! Sorry for jumping the gun. I’m just waiting for the bang.

    • ak says:

      please Canada, don’t turn into the united states

  • Andrew says:

    There’s some critical information missing from this article. For example, if he purchased these abroad, then customs is perfectly in their right to seize them for tax evasion. If they do belong to him after being properly imported, then outrage is warranted.

  • Dean Williams says:

    No, I’m not going to start the outrage. I have traveled abroad with my bassoon on many occasions and I have never had the slightest problem with Canada Border Services. The first time I left the country with it, I registered it, and their (and my documentation is impeccable. As soon as I tell them what I have, it is passed. There have been occasions that I have been asked to show the registration card, but even that is becoming more and more rare. I have seen nothing but efficiency from them, and I have never heard of any of my friends having trouble with them either. If Mr. Kawasaki’s instruments were seized, I am prone to believe that Canadian Border Services had a good reason or strong suspicions for doing so.

    • Canadian violinist says:

      In my experience, it has been impossible to register my violin and bows with Canadian customs before leaving the country. I tried to do this a number of times, and every time I have been told that I need to fill out a Y-38 form for each item. The problem is that the form requires a serial number, and violins and bows do not have serial numbers. I have been advised by a luthier to use the year on the label of the violin as the serial number. They refused on every occasion to accept this. My violin also has a mysterious second label that reads ‘S-125’. When I suggested using that, the exact words of the agent were “that is not a serial number.” Even if it had worked, what about the bows? And that is to say nothing of the bows! What is one to do?

  • Tzenka Dianova says:

    Canada Customs are extremely competent and efficient — please don’t start an outrage before you have all the facts. I don’t see why this should necessarily be an embarrassment for Canada…

  • Mark Gresham says:

    I’m reminded that back in the early 1990s a large portion of the materials for the Chorus America conference in Vancouver, CA was held up by Customs until after the conference actually began — a considerable body of necessary stuff coming from Philadelphia. In a separate incident related to that conference, I was grilled briefly by Canadian Customs about some printed music I was carrying across the border with me (via bus from Washington State), but was ultimately let through with it. No question that the customs officer in that cases was “extremely competent and efficient.” He was sharp and skilled. However, “extremely” in those matters is too often the hobgoblin of an overbearing bureaucracy. The only person who was not let across the border was a large, white-haired and bearded man wearing a turban and carrying personal belongings in a pillowcase. He did not appear either poor not vagrant. I would take going through Canadian Customs over the US TSA any day, but these days I do generally worry about any such “rational” system becoming “unreasonable” (cf sociologist George Ritzer), whether otherwise competent and efficient or not.

    • Jonathan says:

      It’s not the TSA that is responsible for border controls upon entering the US, it’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Please get your facts straight.

      • Mark Gresham says:

        I was comparing two different “security” checkpoint experiences, not two parallel “customs” experiences. Please get your brain straight. I’ll say it again, perhaps more clearly: I’d rather go through Canadian Customs checkpoint than a TSA checkpoint.

  • V.Lind says:

    Kawasaki is still concertmaster at the National Arts Centre Orchestra. He and all his necessary instruments had a tour of China in the autumn without any reported incident.

    Like the three posters above, I would want more information before blaming Canada Customs (who in my experience are very thorough, and have been so for many years, long before 9/11 and the culture imposed by the Department of Homeland Security).

    Kawasaki is experienced in travelling, so should have prepared the appsopriate documentation. If he did, then the Canadian Customs are as bad as the European that have been widely reported here. But we need more information.

    • This smells to me of Canada border agents a. Ethnic prejudice and b. Simply Greed, This dedicated hard-working concert master clearly owns the violin and bows and he will have to have a Visa or Passport details that declares his actual Job is as a Professional musician. The cheek of $120,000 fine is ridiculous… They also know that the calibre and income of this musician will be of high standard and the Canadian officials just want a piece of that ‘pie’ which is shameful..

  • Mark Gresham says:

    Just so everyone is on the same page…on the Canadian Border Services website:

    “Travellers – Residents Returning to Canada”

  • Tzenka Dianova says:

    I’ve traveled from Canada to Europe with a most bizarre item in my hand luggage — a box full of various sizes of metal bolts, screws and such, needed for piano preparation — during periods of heighten security. I was prepared to explain, and I’d made sure all metal objects were of the allowed size. I was stopped and questioned, and all objects were measured, but I was let pass without a problem. When it comes to security it seems that strict observation of rules can be a lifesaver rather than an example of bureaucracy, no?

    When I called Canada Customs “extremely competent and efficient” I only meant that they will for sure find any undeclared and/or prohibited item/s. For those who travel to/through Canada — please declare anything that needs to be declared.

  • The above link states that there is no duty to be paid on items “for personal use”…My instruments are most certainly “for personal use”…Am I missing something?

    • George Daugherty says:

      If you use your instruments, or anything else you are carrying, professionally, Canadian Customs does not consider that “for personal use.” As a U.S. conductor who works in Canada numerous times per year, I have even had issues with bringing in conductor’s scores that I did not declare, and have had them seized or been threatened with fines a few times, because I did not declare them. Now I do. On the CBSA entry form U.S. citizens are given on the airplane, as they land in Canada, one of the boxes to check is for “Commercial Goods, whether or not for resale.” I learned the hardway that my scores are considered “Commercial Goods,” and I now tick that box when I enter.

  • Admittedly, we don’t have all the facts. I hope no one thinks a violin & its bows are weapons of mass destruction. It seems to me it’s become a massive headache for musicians to travel with their instruments. I suppose my husband & I are fortunate–we’re both singers. You cant separate us from our instruments. I;’m not being entirely facetious. Just what is it with these border agents? Doesn’t it require a certain minimal competence/education to be one? I’m just totally at a loss the more horror stories I read in Slipped Disc.

  • BigY says:

    Well, to be honest, Canada Customs are not as bad as US customs, for example, but they can be bad (from my own experience and others) if you get there at the wrong time, and to the wrong person.

    Yosuke owns his instruments, and immigrated to Canada with them, and as such, they are exempt from duty. My guess is that this had to do with the clause asking if we are bringing something related to our profession (regardless if it requires payment of duty or not). MANY musicians do not know they need to answer this with a “yes”, because we don’t think of ourselves as a “business”.

    The nice thing for the customs agent to do is to tell the person that next time he needs to report it in the customs card, every time. The fact he was given a FINE (not duties, since there are NO duties on antiques in Canada) means that he fell on an unforgiving customs agent, one that felt he made a catch, or decided to pull a power trip.

  • George Daugherty says:

    As a U.S. conductor who works in Canada numerous times per year, I have even had issues with bringing in conductor’s scores that I did not declare, and have had them seized or been threatened with fines a few times, because I did not declare them. Now I do. On the CBSA entry form U.S. citizens are given on the airplane, as they land in Canada, one of the boxes to check is for “Commercial Goods, whether or not for resale.” I have learned the hard way that my scores are considered “Commercial Goods,” and I now tick that box when I enter. My U.S. instrumentalist colleagues entering Canada check that same box when carrying their own instruments. That seems to be what Canadian Border Services are looking for — although checking that box also frequently puts you into the inspection line before leaving the customs hall. But without hassles (or having my laboriously marked scores taken away from me.)

    • George Daugherty says:

      P.S. I would add that by declaring them, I do not have to pay any duty on them. But I am declaring that I am bringing them into the country, and that I will exit with them.

  • Brian says:

    As a conductor and although I have never traveled through Canada, I have never had any difficulty whatsoever entering countries in central/Eastern Europe or the United States. For many years I was traveling on a U.S. passport issued in Budapest after mine had been stolen there. It was green instead of the U.S. blue; that seemed to raise an eyebrow or two at a border crossing between Poland and the Czech Republic but it was dealt with quickly and efficiently. (It didn’t hurt that my driving companion was a Czech national and could communicate much better than I.

    All of this being said, the most wonderful words I ever hear on return to the U.S. are “Welcome home, Mr. Hughes.”

  • CDH says:

    This actually happened over a year ago. The violin and bows were returned in short order, though the fine is still outstanding.

    Slightly misleading, the “here we go again.”

    • Not at all. We went on the facts available. He paid a king’s ransom and had the instrument returned.

      • Reggie Benstein says:

        Mr Lebrecht, I’m curious to know how it is you are able to say with certainty that Mr Kawasaki has indeed paid the fine. According to this current article in the Ottawa Citizen, the fine is “outstanding” and “not yet resolved”… ??

        • ed says:

          Mr. Bernstein- Thanks for posting the URL information for the article that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen. After they quoted part of my comment from this post, I had a caustic follow up for the paper, but since I don’t use Facebook, I couldn’t leave what I had to say there. Instead, I think I’ll let myself sound like a broken record here. My comment:

          “Well, yes, how could it not have been embarrassment that the concertmaster of the National Arts Centre Orchestra- a cultural jewel of Canada’s capital, yes?- had his instrument impounded and PAID or is STILL FACING a $120,000 fine? This is an example of government that punishes for allegedly not following the Customs Declaration formalities while ignoring the substance of the affair. After all, ain’t it supposed to be the PEOPLE’S government? As for ‘Harper and his gang’, they have highjacked the Canadian political system and repeated this same type of thing for much more than Border control, and if Canadians don’t know they are under strict NSA and DHS type surveillance, or wish to ignore Harper’s draconian policies and political hardball on domestic and foreign policy issues that are, and will continue to be, destructive of their country’s economy and future, then they have been eating too much sand. Sadly, this is not the Canada that Americans knew during the Vietnam War.”

          My sense is that committed artists (as well as those of us who never made it) should not be hesitant to speak out, even if it makes waves or may not be acceptable in ‘polite society’, if it is to declare or protect one’s right to express oneself or practice one’s profession when those rights are threatened, or to travel without harassment, or to protect one’s lawful property without the fear of sanction, penalty or seizure. Certainly, tripping on the formalities should not result in a draconian forfeiture, or if by chance it does, the injustice should be corrected without having to endure an extended delay.

          • Reggie Benstein says:

            ed, I think you would be deluding yourself by connecting this incident purely to the current government. Many moons ago, I would cross the border on a regular basis – both by air and by car – and I always took the step to get the particular form (can’t remember the name of it but it was green) that states my instruments were personal belongings.

            That was under a different government during a different time and there was always the danger that some border guard would be a stickler.

            On a side note, I hope that Mr Kawasaki, along with the thousands of other American citizens who live in Canada, are aware of the new tax law from their home country coming this July.

            More info:


        • I would expect Mr Kawasaki has sought Legal representation and negotiations may have been agreed for a ‘release fee’ to return the Violin and bows considering the fact that Mr Kawasaki needs the items for his Profession and income! Mr Kawasaki is entitled to defending the supposed fine and most legal cases do take at least 12 months to go through a judicial process often longer.

          • ed says:

            Think about it. To have to hire a lawyer at what? $200.00 an hour? $300.00 an hour? or $400.00 an hour to defend a case where an expropriatory fine was levied for not following procedures and/or for having fallen into the clutches of an arbitrary agent and punitive system boggles the mind. And then to have to wait maybe a year? This is Kafkaesque. And, yes, it is a reflection of the Harper cabal. (Oh, I forgot, in October of 2013 he sold out the Canadian people with a Canadian-EU Free Trade Agreement that has now basically transferred Canadian sovereignty to the multinationals. Good luck Ottawa or Quebec or wherever, when you try to regulate a multinational over the next tar sands pipeline spill. It’s you and your citizens that will pay, not the multinational that caused the mess. Imagine the transfer of wealth from small communities resulting from that. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. It was theft pure and simple and the PM got away with it.) What does this have to do with music? With the global economy controlled by the multinationals and your government powerless to do anything about it, it’s not a pretty scene for artists and their economic security (or the freedom to criticize their new masters).

  • ed says:

    Mr. Bernstein- Thanks for the follow up and excellent information.