Canadian officials can't help 2 men jailed in China for fossil crimes

Canadian officials say there's nothing they can do for two Canadians convicted in China of fossil poaching. Zhu Chunlin and Pascal Barre got seven and three-year terms, respectively.

Canadian officials say there's nothing more they can do for two Canadians serving jail time in China for smuggling dinosaur fossils out of the country.

Zhu Chunlin was sentenced last week to seven years, and Pascal Barre was convicted in July and given a three-year term following their arrests more than a year ago.

Ian Burchett of the Canadian Embassy in China says both men were visited by Canadian officials, who say the two were treated with "fairness and respect" by the Chinese courts.

Fossil experts say the men were caught in a public crackdown on fossil poaching. Zhu was also fined the equivalent of $28,600 Cdn.

George Winters knew Zhu through an association of American fossil dealers.

Winters says he doesn't believe the Canadian knowingly tried to smuggle the items, and blames the Chinese government for trying to make an example of Zhu.

While China has banned fossil exports, it has lax rules concerning tourists.

"Guards and representatives at [paleontological sites] will allow people, if they find fossil leaves and even fossil fish, to remove them and take them with them as souvenirs," says Winters.

Zhu, a former resident of Vancouver, ran a business in California. Chinese newspapers have said he also taught at a university. Barre's Canadian ties aren't immediately known.

Zhu was sentenced along with five others for trafficking nearly 3,000 fossils, including primitive birds, dinosaurs, tortoises and tigers, some dating back 200 million years.

Zhu was accused of trying to take 1,141 fossils out of China in November 2004. Another 1,784 fossils were found in two Chinese cities.

Canadian paleontologist Phil Currie, who works frequently in China, says poor farmers and professional thieves have destroyed countless finds for profit.

"The whole thing is completely out of control," says Currie. "There are groups, which are very professional in how they collect things, and they don't leave anything, just a big hole."