Quebec man, company convicted in illegal polar bear trade

Two convictions for illegal export of polar bear skins shows Canada is serious about policing trade in wildlife as international commerce in endangered species grows, said an Environment Canada spokesman.

Fined for exporting polar bear skins to another province without complying with regulations

An enforcement officer scans a taxidermied polar bear to read information from an embedded microchip. The data ensures the bear was harvested legally. A Quebec man and a taxidermy company were fined last week for exporting polar bear skins to another province without complying with existing regulations. (Submitted by Environment and Climate Change Canada)

Two convictions for illegal export of polar bear skins shows Canada is serious about policing trade in wildlife as international commerce in endangered species grows, said an Environment Canada spokesman.

A Quebec man and a taxidermy company were fined last week for exporting polar bear skins to another province without complying with existing regulations.

The company 3M Nature, of Normandin, Que., was fined $5,000 for exporting two bear skins to British Columbia in 2013. Although 3M Nature has the proper licences to export such parts, the man they bought them from did not.

Marcel Parisien, who sold the skins to 3M, was also fined $5,000.

Sheldon Jordan, Environment Canada's director of wildlife enforcement, said it's crucial to be able to trace all polar bear parts sold in Canada.

"Parisien is not licensed and he did not have any of the paperwork to trace the origin of these bears," said Jordan.

Traceability has been a key part of how Canada has defended its polar bear sport hunt and trade in the face of growing international scrutiny. Canada, the only country in the world that still allows the trade and hunt, has twice faced U.S.-led attempts to have polar bear sales banned as completely as elephant ivory.

The latest was in 2013, the same year Parisien made his sales.

"That (ban) would have had a huge impact on many northern and remote communities," Jordan said.

Tags trace point of origin

In 2014, the 180-country Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, agreed to conduct a lengthy study into the global trade of the Arctic predators.

Southern hunters pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of bringing down a polar bear. Polar bear rugs sell legally for anywhere from $16,000 to $35,000, depending on size.

Canada has always maintained the polar bear hunt — co-managed with indigenous people — is sustainable and well-regulated. Bear quotas are distributed among indigenous communities, who decide for themselves whether they'll take the animals or sell the rights to a southern sport hunter.

All hides, whether from an indigenous or sport hunt, must be accompanied by a tag tracing it back to the point of origin.

Indigenous groups and various levels of government peg the number of tags at about 500 a year, although the number of bears actually killed is generally less. Scientists have said that level of harvest is sustainable.

Canada exports between 300-350 skins a year.

Worldwide demand for wildlife

Jordan, who also leads Interpol's committee on illegal wildlife trade, said the pressure on North American "iconic" wildlife is growing.

Prices for polar bear hides quintupled between 2009 and 2013, he said, although they have since retreated.

"Worldwide, there has been a really huge increase in demand for wildlife, particularly iconic species," said Jordan.

"There has been an increase in Canadian species. We've got polar bears, we've got narwhal."

Some have claimed that Canadian polar bear documents required to trade the hides have been used to make illegally obtained skins appear legitimate.

If Canada wants to avoid future attempts to end its polar bear hunt, Jordan said tight enforcement of wildlife regulations is needed.

"We have to have the traceability in place to make sure the harvest is sustainable."