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If you’re like most parents, you need to get the best bang for your buck.  It’s not to say that you’d compromise your child’s safety to save a couple of dollars, but if you can save, you would like to.

Shopping online for car seats highlights the of price disparities between Canada and the USA.  While news reports often hone in on televisions or other electronics, they should be looking at car seats.

As an example, the Graco Nautilus, 3-in-1 car seat on Amazon.ca is $249 (or higher).  The same seat, the Graco Nautilus, 3-in-1 car seat on Amazon.com is $139.  Yes, a $110 difference.  Of course Amazon.com won’t ship it to Canada, so Canadians are left to either cross border shop or to get a supportive American friend to ship it to them.

Is It Legal?

Transport Canada has a page dedicated to the cross border child car seat shopping phenomenon.  They seem to suggest that it’s illegal and unsafe for Canadians to use these seats.  “Transport Canada and Health Canada are concerned that parents and caregivers may not know that it is illegal to import and use in Canada a seat that does not comply with Canadian standards.”  Okay, so it’s illegal if it doesn’t comply with Canadian standards, but what if it does?  Is it legal?  It goes on to suggest that parents or care givers who purchased a seat that is subject to a recall won’t be notified.  However with access to the internet, this truly isn’t a concern.  Information is freely available.

The scary paragraph for parents would be this one:

“Under Health Canada’s Restraint Systems and Booster Seats for Motor Vehicles Regulations, and in accordance with the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, child, infant, and booster seats that do not comply with certain specifications of Transport Canada’s Motor Vehicle Restraint Systems and Booster Seat Safety Regulations (RSSR) must not be imported, advertised or sold in Canada whether by individuals or for commercial purposes. Furthermore, provincial and territorial legislation does not allow their use in Canada. Their laws are enforced on roadways by provincial and territorial police.”

Now I’m not a lawyer, but they keep saying that this applies to seats that “do not comply”.  So if they do comply, are they legal?  It goes on to say that seat “may not comply” with Canada’s rigorous testing standards.  Suggesting that you’ll be putting your child at risk.  Well played Transport Canada, well played.  No one wants to put their child in harms way.

Even in their summary, it says that parents “should” look for the National Safety Mark label to ensure it’s legal.  Which is about the strongest language of the page.  However should does not equal must.

I’m left to wonder if the seat is made by one company and is available in both Canada and the United States, if it would be exempt from this concern.  If it’s the same seat, it would pass all safety regulations of both countries.  Some may argue that although it would be named the same, that the seat could be built to different specifications for differing countries.  Possible, however it’s doubtful.  The article avoids the topic of seats that would comply and would pass our tests, should they be tested.

I called our local police for our Provincial laws.  They referred me to our local health unit.  They too suggest the safety label, however their language too seems to stop short of “must”.  They did make an interesting point, that our car insurance may require the safety sticker.

Back on the phone to our personal insurance company.  Under our policy (yours may be different) it is not a requirement that our seat posses a Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (CMVSS) sticker label.  However suggested that hypothetically, it could be held against us should we be sued.  To what end, we don’t know.  They did recommend that it could be an issue under the Highway Traffic Act.


Sample CMVSS sticker label.

A review under the Peel Regional Police website, they suggest that:

“Any infant or toddler seat being used must conform to the requirements under the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Act.”  This was new, so off to find those requirements!  Again, nothing could be found making it a requirement.  It should be noted that American’s driving across the border into Canada will not have CMVSS stickers on their car seats.  They are not breaking the law by not purchasing Canadian seats the minute they cross the border.

My understanding is that it is illegal to commercially sell seats without the CMVSS sticker.  I cannot find anything that says using a car seat without the sticker is illegal in Canada.    It sounds like it’s strongly recommended, but they stop short of saying “must” or “required”.  The risk taken would be that of trusting the safety testing rigors of the originating country over Canada’s standards.

*This should not be taken as legal advice or as a definitive review of all legal avenues.  It is only a personal review of what I could find, and my personal understanding as such.  It should be said that while I do believe that I would be safe using an American made car seat made by a manufacturer that is also distributed in Canada, by the same model name – I will be purchasing one with the CMVSS sticker.  I would never knowingly choose to compromise on my children’s safety.  Real risks or perceived, they are my number one priority.