Like many Canadians, the pandemic has been difficult for Julia Qi. For two years, she couldn’t see her eldest daughter, who lives in Australia. Then, last Christmas, global restrictions eased and Daisy Han returned home for a visit.
Qi wanted to do something special, so she bought him an Apple Watch.
“I just want to surprise her,” she told Go Public from her home in southern Ontario. “She was so happy.”
When Han returned home to Sydney, she discovered that the watch’s data-based features were not compatible with telecommunications networks in Australia. She mailed it back to her mother, so she could return it.
Han paid around $50 to send it via Australia Post, and it was cleared by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
But Qi didn’t understand it.
On January 25, Qi picked up the package at a local Canada Post office. She says when the clerk took it out, the box looked like it had been opened. It was as if there was nothing inside. She says the employee told her that was how he got there, so she took the package home.
“I pay their customs duties. I take [the box] home, then nothing in there,” Qi said.
“They just give me an empty box. Nothing in it.”
After Go Public contacted Canada Post, it agreed to refund the $475.67 Qi paid for the Apple Watch, as a gesture of goodwill. Australia Post compensated Han $137 in Australian dollars (about C$100) and also called it a goodwill gesture.
Australia Post told Go Public via email that the package was safely delivered to Canadian customs authorities, and the CBSA said it passed through customs unopened – officially. Qi thinks this all points to one thing, that a Canada Post employee must have stolen the watch right out of the box. The consignment note on the package indicated that it contained an “Apple Watch SE”.
Canada Post says there is no way to find out where the watch went.
“The package was handled multiple times, and by many people, between Australia and the final address,” spokesman Phil Legault said in an email to Go Public.
He said the Postal Service works with Qi and “understands [her] worry.”
A number of people have written to Go Public saying their packages, passports and other items have gone missing in transit with services such as FedEx, Purolator and DHL. A consumer protection expert says insurance exists for a reason.
“It’s really important that people understand the risks they’re going to be taking on by shipping goods,” said Ken Whitehurst, executive director of the Consumers Council of Canada.
It says that unless you have insurance, you basically ship at your own risk. Whitehurst agrees that there is no way to know for sure what happened to the missing watch without a police investigation.
Qi says she asked Canada Post to investigate, but they closed the case without knowing what happened, so she looked into the matter herself.
No proof, says the post
His local post office suggested that someone at CBSA might have opened the box. The CBSA told him that there was no record that the package had been inspected and that if it had been, there would have been yellow tape on it, which there was not.
Qi says Canada Post would not accept his suspicions. She says she was told there was no evidence the watch was even stolen.
“How can I prove it? I did everything in my power, I did my investigation, then everything indicates that someone opened, opened this box by stealing the watch from Canada Post,” said she declared.
She says the Postal Service told her that if she believed a crime had been committed, she should call the police.
Qi wished she had trusted her instincts and not taken the package home unopened. She believes that if she had opened it in front of the Canada Post employee, there would be no doubt that the watch would have been stolen.
“I feel like I’m so stupid. I should have opened this in front of her and called the police right there so they can’t tell me I can’t prove it“, said Qi.
Go Public asked Canada Post for statistics on complaints of theft by its employees. He did not answer.
Last year, a 58-year-old postal worker was charged in Winnipeg with stealing packages with a combined value of more than $40,000.
And in 2019, a postman in Bear River, Nova Scotia, was charged with stealing mail in the Digby area.
Get the insurance
Australia Post initially reimbursed Han $137 in Australian dollars (approximately C$128), in line with its standard cover against loss or damage.
In an email, a spokesperson told Han that in the future she should take out insurance when sending valuables.
Han says she had already paid extra to have the watch wrapped in two packages and sealed, and opted for expedited shipping, which was another additional cost. She thought those options would make it safer.
She says she understands insurance exists for a reason, but says it should be used to cover uncontrollable circumstances or accidents – not theft by what she also believes was a postal worker.
“If the package was stolen from our porch in Canada and I don’t have insurance…then it would be my responsibility,” she said. “But the thing is, the package was opened at some point in its handling…Why should it be the customer’s responsibility to pay all that extra money for insurance to avoid this kind of scenario?”
Whitehurst, the consumer advocate, says people shipping valuable goods should consider getting insurance if they want to avoid such situations.
Shipping services “are not likely to return or pay you for goods you haven’t insured when they have an insurance program,” he said.
“While it’s not fair that people aren’t better protected, they also need to be realistic and understand that their protections are limited.“
Whitehurst also says shipping companies need to make this clear to their customers upfront.
Qi says Canada Post should do more to protect consumers and stop internal “criminal activity.”
“I feel like they don’t care,” she said. “They just don’t want to do anything.”
Whitehurst says it’s a “pretty serious” crime to tamper with mail, and that Canada Post is “actively investigating” such cases.
“But that doesn’t mean, you know, the property won’t be lost,” he said.
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