CFIB’s Paperweight Award (i.e., the award no one wants to win) highlights the most ridiculous examples of red tape from across the country that cause frustration and headache for Canadian citizens and business owners. 

Worst of the Worst: All trick and no treat for costume shops
Recipient: Canada Border Services Agency

Paperweight Award
Worst of the Worst:
All Trick and No Treat For Costume Shops

Recipient: Canada Border Services Agency

A small costume shop has been hit with a wardrobe full of paperwork and fees all because of two small word changes from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Meet The Costume Shoppe, a 25-year veteran of Calgary’s costume scene, whose import of themed costumes took an unexpected nosedive right before their busiest time of the year. 

The business was previously permitted to import themed costumes with zero duty fees because they were classified as “festive wear” under Chapter 95 of the Canadian Customs Tariff. This all changed in 2022 right before the Halloween and holiday seasons when the CBSA notified the shop that its costumes were now considered “fancy dress” under chapters 61 and 62, making them subject to 18% duty fees plus applicable taxes. The federal agency directed the shop’s owner to submit an extensive report detailing the quality of the costume materials, failed to verify the costumes in person, never explained the reasoning for their decisions, and required the "voluntary" payment of taxes retroactively back to 2020. 
The CBSA’s decision is also creating an unlevel playing field between big and small businesses. Holiday-themed clothing and accessories are not meant for everyday use, regardless of their cost and quality. The Canadian International Trade Tribunal was of the same opinion when in its 2011 ruling it determined that Halloween costumes imported by Loblaws Canada were exempt from chapters 61 and 62. 
The fix: The CBSA should revert to classifying themed costumes sold by small businesses as “festive wear”. 

Image: Costume Shoppe owner Ryan Schoel and his frustrating CBSA paperwork.

Costume Shoppe-1

2024 Paperweight Honourees

Health Canada: Too many unhealthy changes for natural health products.

Recipient: Health Canada

Businesses in the natural health products industry will soon have a tough pill to swallow if Health Canada proceeds with its plan to implement a burdensome cost recovery process with paperwork challenges and hefty fees to get a natural health product into the Canadian market.

One small business owner who imports about 800 different types of traditional Chinese medicine estimates that under the new cost recovery process, it would cost his business $500,000 more every year to sell his ginseng in Canada.

Adding an extra layer of complexity, new firms (as of June 2025) and businesses licensed before June 2025 (as of June 2028) will have to navigate a standardized Product Facts Table and various other new, technical labelling requirements (e.g., a minimum type size, font types, and contrast), on top of existing labelling rules.  

If that’s not enough, as of July 21, 2022, new supplemented foods coming into the market must comply with the “Supplemented Foods Framework”, adding another level of bureaucratic rules for businesses.
These changes will be costly and could force many small- to medium-sized businesses to shut down Canadian operations, increase their prices, or remove their products from the Canadian market.

The fixes: Health Canada should stop simultaneously piling multiple changes on the natural health products industry; work closely with industry to create fair and reasonable fees that consider the challenges small businesses face; keep existing labelling requirements in the short term; and work closely with industry to modernize labelling in the long term.

Finance Canada: Payroll services businesses stuck with unintended consequences

Recipient: Finance Canada

A regulatory change from Finance Canada is imposing an additional level of duplicative and burdensome paperwork on businesses using payroll services.

Up until February 2022, payroll services were exempted as a “money services business” from Canada’s Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regime. That’s when Finance Canada put in place a change that removed this long-standing exemption, making these services subject to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA).

Time is money for small businesses. Under the change, any business using payroll services must provide extensive and detailed paperwork that often cannot be easily produced or transmitted. Businesses must also provide physical verification of items such as partnership agreements. This additional paperwork is burdensome, costly, and duplicates existing AML controls used by banks.

What makes matters worse is that the requirement for physical documentation is discouraging small businesses from adopting digital payroll solutions that make firms more productive.

On top of all this, the change was made without any consultation, and no consideration was given to potential unintended consequences impacting businesses.

The fix: Stop these unintended consequences by reinstating the payroll services exemption under Canada’s AML regime and making it clear that the PCMLTFA does not apply to payroll services.

The Power of a Paperweight Award

When we stand together against unfair rules and regulations, we can have a major impact on government policies--like in Quebec, where a 2019 Paperweight Award helped this business owner wake up from his red tape nightmare. 

Weekly steak dinners. A new business license—just for changing addresses. A carbon tax rebate costing $80,000.

These are just some of the regulatory blunders CFIB members have faced over the years. We’re taking a break from handing out these dubious honours in 2021 and 2022, but you can still see who has earned the spotlight in past years below.   


DisService Canada - 2023 'Winner'

Government of Canada

January 31, 2023

«Unacceptable». That is how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described Service Canada’s public service delivery over the past year. Ask the average Canadian, and they’ll probably add in a few more expletives. As the world was finally coming back to life after two years, someone clearly forgot to tell Service Canada. 

In the summer of 2022 it became alarmingly common to see Service Canada locations sporting the kinds of lineups that are usually reserved for the latest iPhone or Taylor Swift tickets. Camping chairs and sleeping bags dotted city sidewalks as citizens camped out in front of passport offices in the hopes of making it to the front of the line by the next morning. More than 1.5 million Canadians applied for, or attempted to renew, their passport over the past year. According to an Angus Reid poll, 10% of applicants spent over six hours in line or over the phone. An astounding 5% reported paying someone to stand in line for them along the way!

Even after getting through, applicants on average waited 68 days to finally get their passport. Well beyond Service Canada’s pre-pandemic 10-20 business day service standard. All told, 80% of applicants experienced some form of inconvenience or frustration along the way. One in five wound up withdrawing their application entirely.


Paperweights Through The Years

2021 - 2022

Weekly steak dinners. A new business license—just for changing addresses. A carbon tax rebate costing $80,000.

These are just some of the regulatory blunders CFIB members have faced over the years. We’re taking a break from handing out these dubious honours in 2021 and 2022, but you can still see who has earned the spotlight in past years below.   


Weekly steak dinners. An $80,000 carbon tax rebate. A new business license just for changing adddresses and a law that makes it difficult for doctors to give urgent medical assistance in a neighbouring province or territory experiencing a shortage. These were among 2020's horrific Paperweight Award winners. 

But who won your 2020 Business Owners' Choice Award?

The government of British Columbia's Employer Health Tax (EHT) forces business owners to pay quarterly installments based on estimates of their payroll. The calculation is unlike B.C.'s other provincial payroll tax—worker's compensation—which is charged on actual payroll rather than guesswork. If a business owner is found to have underestimated their annual payroll, they must pay the difference plus interest. 

This blunder was more than enough to secure the B.C. government 2020's Business Owners' Choice Award: Fortune Teller Finances.


Guidelines on what condiments are acceptable for workers. Confusing, contradictory laws on cannabis labels. License applications straight out of the 1970s. These are just some of the regulatory nightmares that won our 2019 Paperweight Awards

The Business Owners’ Choice of the worst red tape was the federal government’s web of confusion. Business owners have told us over and over again that it’s painfully hard to find information on and other government websites. If you CAN find the right info, it’s next to impossible to understand. 


In 2018, business owners were invited to have their say on the worst of the worst. The Business Owners’ Choice, winning by several hundred votes, was Finance Minister Bill Morneau, for adding more complexity and uncertainty to the tax code by imposing a subjective ‘reasonableness test’ on business owners who share income with family members. Other Paperweights "celebrated" Ontario's drastic labour overhaul, a sidewalk to nowhere in B.C., and Statistics Canada's compulsory, time-consuming surveys. 


2017 was another banner year for inane regulations. In addition to lemonade stand police and sidewalks to nowhere, we also saw Nova Scotia employers being required to do convoluted math to pay employees for partial shifts, Alberta agri-businesses forced to comply with employment standards that don’t recognize the realities of working on a farm, and P.E.I. residents being hit with extra taxes when selling property if the buyer is someone from another province. 

Read more and meet the rest of the winners.


Halifax wins for its new patio regulations, which cost local bars and restaurants north of $1,000 to comply with. It shared the award with the Canadian Border Services Agency, for dropping its digital small business section; and the Ontario Recycling Authority, for a complicated digital form for reporting on packaging and recycling paper. 

Runners-up included Revenu Québec for issuing a permit that construction companies had to give to clients… who then send it back to Revenu Québec. Also nominated were the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, the Canadian Border Services Agency (twice!), Port Metro Vancouver, the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations.  


The top honour went to Plateau-Mont-Royal, for requiring businesses to replace any plastic chairs used on their patios—a costly upgrade. The Ontario Ministry of Labour shared the award for mandating that employment standards information be printed on legal-size paper.

The also-rans: Manitoba Finance Minister Greg Dewar, for costing some businesses $30,000 because of a lack of guidance; the mayor of Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie, for banning new drive-thrus; and the mayor of Sherbrooke, Que., for banning certain types of marketing banners.


The Temporary Foreign Worker Program, for becoming even more time-consuming and confusing, wins the Paperweight Award. Sharing the distinction: Multi-Material British Columbia, which required business to weigh, measure and report paper and packaging waste.

Dishonorable mentions went to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations, for making it mandatory to get a permit to swap statutory holidays for other days off work; the Ontario Ministry of Labour, for mandating that directors, owners and independent contractors in construction buy workers’ compensation coverage; and the Quebec Ministry of Labour for continuing to outlaw cutting hair on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday in the Outaouais region.

About Red Tape Awareness Week: Each year, we dedicate one week in January to raise public awareness about how excessive regulations and red tape affect you, and challenge politicians and bureaucrats across the country to take action.