03/12/2012 01:33 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Ottawa woman wants seized cash returned

An Ottawa woman is fighting the government to get back thousands of dollars seized from her as she attempted to cross the border at the airport.

In September, Genet Shume, a single mother who came to Canada from Ethiopia, was headed to her home country with her two children to give family and friends the money she had saved working at a bank.

Shume, carrying $12,000 at the airport, was unaware of the restrictions under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, which require people leaving the country with $10,000 or more in cash or foreign currency to report it to a border services officer.

Authorities seized the $12,000 and asked Shume whether she was involved in drugs or terrorism.

"'Maybe this is for terrorist,' he say," said Shume, adding that she responded, 'I'm not that person. I'm Christian. I'm not for terrorism."

Shume and her children were allowed to board the plane, but she arrived in Ethiopia without any money, and said she was forced to beg for food.

"Some people kind. They give me cookies. One guy he give me every day one litre of milk for my kids," she said.

Misses border appeals deadline

Shume returned to Canada two months later and tried to recover the seized money.

She said an RCMP officer assured her she would get the money back, and as a result of waiting she missed a three-month appeals deadline to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Her lawyer, Russell Kaplan, said Shume missed the deadline but the government needs to show flexibility because of the circumstances.

"They've been shafted," said Kaplan about his client and her kids.

"She was given the impression ... a legitimate expectation of receiving the money," he said.

Meanwhile, Shume, who is also a full-time student, said she has been forced to borrow to get by.

"Oh, Canadian government ... it's poorer than me?" she asks. "Why they need my money? It's for Canadian government."