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Christmas gifts spend weeks in limbo awaiting customs clearance in Richmond, B.C.

It’s just a few pairs of novelty sunglasses that Rocky Gauthier ordered from China as Christmas presents for his wife and kids. But the package has been stuck in Richmond for three weeks, waiting to be released by customs.

Processing times as long as 4 weeks reported for packages arriving from China via Canada Post

Canada Post is delivering one million packages every day. (Canada Post)

It's just a few pairs of novelty sunglasses that Rocky Gauthier ordered from China as Christmas presents for his wife and kids. But the package has been stuck in Richmond, B.C., for three weeks now, waiting to be released by customs.

Frustrated holiday shoppers have been sharing their Canada Post tracking numbers on social media in recent weeks, showing parcels that have been stuck at "sent for further processing" in Richmond for as long as four weeks.

The Canada Post website marks the progress of Gauthier's package as it appeared on Friday. (Screengrab from CanadaPost.ca)

With two weeks left before Christmas, it's anyone's guess whether Gauthier's gifts will arrive in time.

"All I'm getting is a lot of red tape, I'm feeling like I'm at an international tennis game with the back and forth between Canada Post and CBSA," Gauthier wrote in a message to CBC News.

The postal service says it is delivering more than a million packages each day, and messages on its website and social media channels acknowledge that delays are possible as workers grapple with "record holiday parcel volumes."

But neither Canada Post nor the Canada Border Services Agency had direct answers for why some international packages are taking weeks to process.

CBSA officials declined a request for an interview, but offered an emailed statement explaining, "The Agency uses risk-management principles in order to balance expediting international mail without compromising the safety and security of Canadians."

Heightened anxiety about fentanyl trafficking from China and shipment of other dangerous goods could be behind the long processing times some people are seeing, Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton told CBC News.

"Anything that's coming from outside our borders has to go through our border," he said. "As soon as we get the items, we're processing them and having them out for delivery. People are working incredibly hard and doing a great job."

Another package from China has been processing in Richmond since Nov. 13. (Screengrab from CanadaPost.ca)

Still, he expressed skepticism about packages from China languishing in customs for a month, saying, "I have nothing to back up those dates."

When provided with tracking numbers, Hamilton wrote in an email that he was looking into it, but added, "Sounds like everything is working well between us and CBSA."

Delays from U.S.

However, it's not just packages from China that are taking some time to work their way through customs.

A Vancouver Island man who shared his tracking information waited while a wristwatch mailed from California sat in processing in Richmond for 13 days.

He declined to be named for this story, but told CBC News the experience left him "frustrated and impatient."

When asked about the delay, Hamilton said that situation is "not normal and that's not what we're experiencing."

He added that if shoppers are still hoping to have their international packages delivered on time for Christmas, they should choose retailers who offer guaranteed shipping times.

Online shopping worth billions

It's something that more and more Canadians will have to consider as online shopping explodes in popularity across the country.

The most recent numbers from Statistics Canada are from September, when e-commerce sales by Canadian businesses accounted for $1.2 billion, or about 2.4 per cent of all retail trade in the country. The total dollar value had jumped by 16.7 per cent from a year earlier.

It's too early to guess at numbers for this holiday season, but last December, shoppers bought $1.7 billion worth of goods online from Canadian businesses, making up about 3.4 per cent of all retail sales.

Canadians are spending billions on online shopping every month. (iStock/Getty Images))

For Gauthier, who lives in Ottawa, the appeal of shopping online is obvious. He says he's a veteran and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, so visiting shopping malls and stores can be a stressful experience.

He didn't realize the knock-off sunglasses he'd ordered were coming from China, but thought they'd make a "funny Christmas gift." His tracking number shows they left China on Nov. 8 and arrived in Richmond 11 days later — theoretically plenty of time to arrive before the holidays.

"My frustration is out the door," he said.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Web writer

Bethany joined CBC in 2017 with 10 years of experience in print and web journalism. Reach her at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.