Canadian Relief For Oklahoma Tornado Victims Stopped At Border

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When a massive tornado devastated the town of Moore, Oklahoma early last week, a group of Canadians took it upon themselves to gather relief supplies for the people in need. Their generous gift, though, has been stopped at the U.S.-Canadian border:

A Canadian shipment of relief goods bound for storm-ravaged Oklahoma has been stopped at the Canada-U.S. border in Windsor, Ont.

American officials will not allow the 20,000 kilograms of food, blankets and diapers into the country until every item on board is itemized in alphabetical order and has the country of origin of every product noted.

Dennis Sauve, the volunteer co-ordinator for Windsor Lifeline Outreach and the food bank co-ordinator at the Windsor Christian Fellowship, the two organizations that gathered the goods, said it’s a “physical impossibility” to do the paperwork required in time to get the perishable food to Oklahoma before it spoils.

Because U.S. President Barack Obama hasn’t declared Moore, Okla., tornado a disaster area, the 52-foot trailer of goods is considered a commercial shipment rather than humanitarian aid.


Sauve’s group secured skids of food donated from Heinz Canada, a refrigerated truck from ADT Transportation and fresh fruits and vegetables from a number of greenhouses in Leamington, Ont., southeast of Windsor.

“It was very rapid. By the hour it was swelling up in size. We were absolutely thrilled to be able to do this,” Sauve said. “I had no dream at all it would be this difficult. I never dreamt we would be called to the table on being able to give this food to people in need.”

The shipment was to be sent to the Gate Church or Oklahoma City, about 20 minutes away from the devastation.

Bishop Tony Miller called the ng-up “very unfortunate.” He said his church has been waiting to receive the goods all week.

“We were excited that our friends internationally were willing to send resources. They worked hard to put it together,” said Miller, when reached en route to Moore on Friday.zz

The truck was originally scheduled to leave Wednesday. Instead, it’s parked in Leamington.

“They were kind of shocked at how much we were able to get together,” Sauve said.

The truck was loaded with so much food and supplies, it was initially overweight and volunteers had to remove skids.

Sauve said U.S. agents have asked to physically inspect the produce and two skids of rice, donated by Dainty Rice in Windsor.


Sauve said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now asking for documentation of every item on the truck, including manufacturer’s documentation and country of origin before it will approve the shipment as “safe for consumption.”

“That documentation for us would be an impossibility,” Sauve said.

He is now worried the fresh food, picked on Wednesday, will soon spoil.

“We’re holding our breath and saying our prayers,” Sauve said

Initially, I must say that I was surprised that Moore had not been declared a Federal disaster area as I had assumed this had happened quite quickly after the tornado hit and the scope of the devastation was know. Indeed, according to this report, President Obama had declared a major disaster in Moore and several surrounding counties. Why this isn’t sufficient for the shipment from Canada to get the necessary waivers is unclear. However, incidents like this do tend to demonstrate how bureaucracy and unbending rules make even simple tasks far more difficult than they need to be. Hopefully, they’ll be able to find a way to get the relief on its way before the food actually starts rotting.

Ed Morrissey  sums up the situation quite well:

What’s crystal clear is the absurdity of the standoff that has 40,000 pounds of badly-needed aid stalled at at the US-Canada border.  Under the circumstances, disaster declaration or not, Oklahoma needs the help.  Furthermore, it should go without saying that the Canadian food system is modern enough to be low-risk to Americans even under normal circumstances.  Not only is this absurd, it’s insulting to Canadians, who rallied to help us, not boost food exports.

But that isn’t how bureaucrats think, you see. For them, the rules must be followed at all costs, even when doing so makes absolutely no sense at all.


FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Mark says:

    You would have that that someone in a position of responsibility would have realized the optics of this are horrendous and figured out a way to make it happen.

    After the IRS mess, holding up aid to red state OK will just feed conspiracy theories never mind Coburn’s hostage taking.

  2. MattT says:

    First of all, a big and unequivocal “Thank You” to the Canadians.

    But is this aid actually “badly needed,” or is this more about a goodwill gesture by the Canadians that’s run into some red tape? And who sends perishables a thousand miles, anyway? Even at my local food bank the call is usually for canned goods or other items with shelf life.

    With all the issues related to invasive exotic pests and tainted foods, I’m not at all surprised that cross-border shipment of fresh produce in which pests could be lurking is held up for inspection. Can even libertarians agree that food safety enforcement is one of the proper roles for government, or are we to wait for the market punish companies that poison people and introduce exotic pests that destroy crops, industries and jobs?

  3. Mr. Replica says:

    holding up aid to red state OK will just feed conspiracy theories never mind Coburn’s hostage taking.

    Everything, EVERYTHING, fuels the conspiracy theories.

    The Illuminati, Bilderberg, Rothschild’s, Reptilians, CFR…they are behind everything. Just don’t listen to me tho, I am just a paid shill for the NWO. Spreading misinformation and hoping to get out of the FEMA camps when martial law is imposed by Obama.

  4. Caj says:

    Oh for Gods sake! It’s much needed aid for those poor souls in Oklahoma. Bless all those Canadian hearts who saw fit to help out in such a positive way. Is there nothing that can get done without some kind of hold up when people so desperately need all the help they can get?

  5. rudderpedals says:

    Thank you Ontario. It’s a wonderful gesture. Pity volunteers with a forklift and a loading dock couldn’t be found before today to finish up the documentation and get the trailer on its way.

  6. Davebo says:


    Pity no logistics professional or organization didn’t volunteer to help them before the truck was loaded in the first place. These are absolute minimum requirements largely due to the special relationship between the US and Canada.

    Try getting the same relief to say Brazil to give just ine example.

  7. Davebo says:

    k.sad that no logistics professional volunteered. these are absolute minimum requirements

  8. Davebo says:

    Sorry for the double. But seriously, an itemized packing list with COO is basic. It seems no values were required nor commodity codes.

  9. I’m surprised those fiscally conserv Okies who voted against aid for Sandy would accept help. Especially from “commie socialist” Canada. Fricking Canadians are trying make us think socialism is good. Okies and Texans need to set an example of how they say the rest of us are supposed to live. Grab those boot staps and pull. But don’t bend over around family….oh guess you can’t avoid it. OKLAHOMA & TEXAS where EVERYONE is family.

  10. bill says:

    @MattT: It’s Canada, the 51st state for crissakes. You can really justify this because it may make the obama admin. look kinda bad?

  11. trizzlor says:

    But that isn’t how bureaucrats think, you see. For them, the rules must be followed at all costs, even when doing so makes absolutely no sense at all.

    So …. low-level bureaucrats should just decide on their own what rules do and do not make sense and disobey them at will? You have heard of the recent IRS scandal right? If a rule shouldn’t be followed at all costs then change the rule or repeal it. Congress can schedule an emergency session, the president can issue a temporary executive order, etc. we have fail-safes in place for this. The idea that individual U.S. agents should just break the law and wave through trucks that look “sensible” is idiotic.

  12. Tillman says:


    But seriously, an itemized packing list with COO is basic.

    Working in an industry that regularly ships equipment across states (in one nation) exposed me to the necessity of having itemized packing lists. It’s a given that this work is done. And that’s between different states (hell, different cities), not different nations. This article is Doug reaching beyond his expertise and into areas he doesn’t know much about to pontificate.

    Yes, it’s sad the aid is held up and will most likely rot (though, to echo MattT, who sends perishables a thousand miles?), but that’s what happens when you have a good intention but know nothing about how to see it through.

    But that isn’t how bureaucrats think, you see. For them, the rules must be followed at all costs, even when doing so makes absolutely no sense at all.

    And the government must be blamed in every case even when charity workers should have expected there to be an issue with driving 20k kilos of unidentified stuff over the border. That sounds terrific.

  13. anjin-san says:

    Since Mitt Romney is on the comeback trail, perhaps he should stage a disaster relief photo op. Mitt cares!

  14. JohnH says:

    Kudos to my compatriots for having good hearts.

    But seriously now, homies. It didn’t occur to anyone to make a phone call and find out if there would be any issues? “Nothing to declare, officer!” may work when you’re on your way back from Frankenmuth with some Christmas ornaments, but probably won’t when you’re towing 20,000 lb of potential pest and disease vectors.

    As for border agents selectively applying the rules – they do it all the time, and the system wouldn’t work if they did not. But, in this case it was well beyond what sensible leeway they are given and no agent in her right mind would make any other call.