By Robert Sibley
On an August day three years ago, a dozen or so law enforcement officers — Environment Canada agents, RCMP, Border Security services, Fish and Wildlife staff among them — waited patiently while a small boat motored across the St. Lawrence River from the Akwesasne Reservation on the United States side of the border to land on the Cornwall side.
They waited as the man in the boat gave three crates to another man who had been waiting for him. They waited as the second man loaded the crates into his truck. And that’s when waiting came to an end.
The results of that long wait came to a conclusion in a Cornwall court late last week when a judge sentenced a Cobden man, Dennis Day, to a 90-day jail sentence and slapped him with the $50,000 fine. Day, in his 40s, had pleaded guilty in July to two counts of illegally importing reptiles into Canada. A few months earlier, in March, he’d been convicted under the Customs Act of smuggling, keeping, acquiring and disposing of illegally imported goods. (The man who operated the boat was charged and convicted by American authorities.)
Tuesday’s sentencing was the culmination of a lengthy investigation into a growing problem — the smuggling of reptiles, birds, animals, and plants, many of them rare and endangered, both from and to Canada — that has law enforcement agencies scrambling to keep up with increasingly sophisticated smugglers who cater to those who think they need to own an exotic species. And some are prepared to pay a steep price to satisfy their fetish for the exotic.
“There’s the illegal drug trade, illegal immigration, illegal weapons trade; wildlife is up there,” says Martin Thabault, operations manager for wildlife enforcement in Ontario who’s been involved in the Day case. “There’s a lot of money to be made. We’re talking about plants, lumber. Or it could be rhino horn, exotic leathers, exotic pets. It’s pretty widespread.
Thabault and his colleagues hope the sentence meted out to Day sends a message of deterrence.
“We’ve had similar files in the past (but) this was probably one of the more important cases in recent history,” he says.
Part of the problem they face — at least this as been the case in the past — is how seriously prosecutors and judges take the crime in terms of imposing stiff fines and jail terms. More....