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Teens' Bagpipes Seized at U.S. Border; Was It In Tune With the Law?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 06, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Two teens returning from a bagpipe competition in Canada hit a sour note with U.S. border authorities, who swiped their pipes because they contained ivory.

Campbell Webster and Eryk Bean of New Hampshire, both 17, were crossing the U.S.-Canada border in Vermont, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized the boys' prized bagpipes. According to The Associated Press, the bagpipes did contain ivory, but Webster claims it was completely legal to possess.

So which is it: teen bagpipers or young ivory smugglers?

Elegy and Ivory

The U.S. Department of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) controls which items may be brought into the county (like absinthe), even by U.S. citizens returning home. Among the items prohibited for import are any animal products or trophies which have been prohibited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The FWS has imposed restrictions on importing ivory and similar goods made from endangered animals as part of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES). Under CITIES and FWS regulations, items made from endangered species, like those made with most types of ivory, cannot be brought into the United States without some form of documentation.

The AP reports that the boys had documentation for their ivory-laden bagpipes, but that the CBP confiscated them anyway. Under federal regulations, "antique" ivory pieces may be imported as long as they are documented as being at least 100 years old. Webster claims his pipes date back to 1936, making them old but not quite "antique" by the federal standard. Ivory pieces that were obtained before 1973 and are less than 100 years old may be imported if the proper permits and affidavits are accompanying them.

Webster's pipes aren't just antique, though -- they belonged to his father, who apparently was Queen Elizabeth II's Ninth Sovereign Piper. Alas, the royal pedigree wasn't enough to immediately convince U.S. border agents.

Fines, Non-Designated Crossing

Thanks to an online petition and action by New Hampshire's congressional delegation, the boys now have their pipes back -- at a price. The AP reports they paid $576 in fees for crossing the border with the ivory pipes at a "non-designated crossing." The United States has tightened travel restrictions in the past five years for visitors to Canada, which apply even to bagpipe-playing teens.

Thankfully for Webster and Bean, they won't be playing the blues through their ivory bagpipes this time.

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