Saskatoon woman found guilty of trafficking bear parts

A Saskatoon woman has been found guilty of buying illegal bear parts from undercover conservation officers.

Lianhua Chi, 55, will be sentenced later this month

A Saskatoon woman has been convicted trafficking in illegal black bear parts. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

A Saskatoon woman has been found guilty of buying illegal bear parts from undercover conservation officers.

On Thursday, Lianhua Chi was convicted of six counts under the Wildlife Act after buying black bear gallbladders and paws at her restaurant in the city between December 2016 and August 2017.

While her lawyer argued that she was the victim of entrapment and abuse of process, Judge Bruce Bauer disagreed.

"There was no pressure put forward by police," said the judge in Saskatoon provincial court.

"They used no trickery, rewards or threats. They even made sure she was aware of the illegality of her actions."

Chi was charged as part of a lengthy investigation by conservation officers into the trafficking of illegal bear parts, which began in 2016.

Undercover conservation officers initially approached the owners of a restaurant in the northern community of Sandy Bay, Sask., after a black bear was found gutted at the local landfill.

Local RCMP officers received a tip that the restaurant was buying bear parts illegally, and a group of undercover conservation officers posing as outfitters approached the owners.

During the trial, the officers testified they originally asked the restaurant owners, Li Gen Han and Li Luanshuan, for used cooking oil, which is commonly used to lure bears to a location to hunt them.

However, officers testified the owners eventually asked if they would sell them bear gallbladders, a prized commodity in Chinese medicine.

During the investigation, they were told about Han's auntie, Lianhua Chi, in Saskatoon.

As in Sandy Bay, officers asked Chi for used cooking oil, but in their first interaction, Chi asked the officers for 'bear breasts,' and later confirmed she was asking to buy a bear gallbladder.

Over the next nine months, the officers visited the restaurant several times, selling Chi bear gallbladders, paws and arms.

Chi's lawyer argued the officers shouldn't have sold her bear parts over numerous visits and were only seeking to drive up the number of charges against her.

However, the judge disagreed, saying that several other connected investigations, including the one in Sandy Bay, were running at the same time, and officers wanted to maintain contact to keep their cover intact.

"They had to maintain their undercover identities," said Bauer.

The judge also took exception to Chi's assertion that she did not speak enough English to understand the officers, and could only understand basic information.

Bauer noted one of the officers testified he had lengthy conversations with Chi at her restaurant and said she was funny.

She also agreed to work as a translator between the undercover officers and a cook who also wanted to buy bear gallbladders.

"I find it hard to accept that she would act as a translator if she does not know English," said the judge.

As a result of the investigation, Li Gen Han and Li Luanshuan pleaded guilty and were collectively fined $30,000.

A woman in Ontario connected to the investigation also pleaded guilty to buying bear parts. A hunter in Sandy Bay pleaded guilty to illegal hunting.

Despite their best efforts, officers were never able to identify anyone outside the restaurant who was buying the bear parts from Chi.

Chi will be sentenced Dec. 31.