Wild animal and plant trade and protection act 2019 annual report: chapter 4

4. Compliance promotion and enforcement of CITES and WAPPRIITA

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) works in partnership with a broad range of enforcement partners to secure compliance with the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA). These partners include the Canada Border Services Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, provincial and territorial law enforcement and conservation authorities, as well as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. ECCC is also an active partner on the international stage in promoting and verifying compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

4.1. Compliance promotion

Compliance with WAPPRIITA is verified by various means, such as reviewing permits, auditing import and export declarations, conducting inspections at ports of entry, conducting routine or spot inspections of wildlife businesses, sharing information with border officials and other national and international agencies, gathering intelligence, and following up on tips provided by the public.

In 2019, ECCC continued to promote compliance with CITES and WAPPRIITA through more than 20 displays located at various venues, including: airports, science centres, zoos, customs offices and border crossings. The purpose of CITES displays is to educate and inform Canadians about both the impacts of illegal wildlife trade, and the plant and animal species they cannot bring into the country without a CITES import permit.

ECCC also promoted compliance with CITES obligations as well as its salamander import restriction under WAPTR, by distributing CITES and Salamander informational posters to targeted stakeholders.

4.2. Enforcement activities

Poaching and trafficking of wildlife undermines conservation efforts and threatens the conservation of species. Over-exploitation driven by illegal trade can decimate populations of species. Illegal trade can also threaten the socio-economic benefits that legal trade in wildlife can provide to certain communities.

Wildlife trafficking worldwide has increased since 2005. Illegal wildlife trade and environmental crime include a wide range of flora and fauna across all continents, and is estimated to be worth $70 to $213 billion USD annuallyFootnote 2.

According to the Wildlife Crime Status Update of 2017Footnote 3, policy innovations, including tightening national and international controls, are starting to show positive effects on illegal trade in wildlife. After a ten-year increase, rates of illegal trade for some charismatic species such as elephant ivory and rhino horn are stabilizing, but close monitoring of activities is essential to make continual improvements in the conservation and protection of wildlife.

4.2.1. Inspections

Inspections are conducted to ensure that the import and export of animals and plants comply with the requirements of WAPPRIITA. Inspections are instrumental in obtaining on-going information on emerging non-compliance risks and threats. The analysis of information collected through inspections informs the development of risk-based priorities for compliance verification.

Inspections are either proactively planned or conducted in response to a referral from another federal department or agency, such as the Canada Border Services Agency, provincial or territorial governments, or the public. About 15% of the inspections conducted under WAPPRIITA focused on Canadian species at high conservation risk or facing a high level of non-compliance, and 85% of the number were focused on foreign species meeting these same criteria of high conservation risk or high level of non-compliance.

In 2019, there were 3344 inspections under WAPPRIITA. The number of national inspections increased by 85% compared to 2018 (1808 inspections). This can be partly explained by an increase in the number of enforcement officers following recruitment and training in early 2019.

The increase in activity is also directly related to the working relationship between ECCC and other stakeholders. Enforcement activities have been initiated by multiple agencies in a joint manner which has resulted in more effective use of resources and increased inspection capabilities. The Intelligence program in ECCC has also increased capacity and this has allowed for closer monitoring of illegal activity related to WAPPRIITA. The increased monitoring and intelligence gathering has resulted in a more effective targeted approach. The Intelligence program continues to map and monitor individuals, groups and organizations involved in violations of WAPPRIITA. This increased monitoring will continue to result in disruption of criminal elements involved in violations of WAPPRIITA.

Vancouver is one of the largest ports for international trade in North America. Its airport, mail centre and sea ports are all among the highest volume in Canada.

The Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is Canada's second-busiest airport. Most notably, YVR serves as a hub for the movement of goods between Canada and the Asia-Pacific region, an area renowned for wildlife trafficking. At the same time, increases in aircraft ranges have opened up direct flights where they did not exist before, such as Toronto and Montréal to the Far East.

4.2.2 Investigations

In 2019, ECCC opened 48 new investigations involving international or interprovincial movements of wildlife. The outcomes of ECCC’s main investigations, including media releases and enforcement notifications, are published online. Please note that open investigations do not necessarily correlate to those published online.

4.2.3 Violations

There were 412 violations of WAPPRIITA or its regulations recorded in 2019 that resulted in prosecutions, seizures, tickets or warnings.

4.2.4 Convictions

In 2019, there were five convictions made for violations of WAPPRIITA or its regulations, which resulted in fines totalling $138,000. Four are described below.

Examples of violations of WAPPRIITA or its regulations that led to penalties in 2019

British Columbia man penalized $18K after attempting to smuggle protected turtles into Canada

On May 6, 2019, after entering a guilty plea, a Vancouver man was ordered to pay an $18,000 penalty for violating WAPPRIITA. The penalty will be directed towards the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund.

On January 27, 2018, the man failed to declare 19 live turtles (made up of 16 different species) at the Canada-United States border crossing. Of the 16 species of turtles, 6 are listed in CITES. The CITES-listed turtles include: Spotted Pond Turtle, Pearl River Map Turtle, Black-knobbed Map Turtle, Diamondback Terrapin and Fly River Turtle. A permit must be obtained prior to importing CITES-listed turtles into Canada. All turtles were seized from the individual and forfeited to the Crown.

Seized turtles. Photo: ECCC – Wildlife Enforcement Directorate
Seized turtles. Photo: ECCC Wildlife Enforcement Directorate

Company ordered to pay $50K for illegally importing herbal oil containing protected orchid species

On March 4, 2019, a company in British Columbia was ordered to pay a total of $50,000 in penalties after pleading guilty to violating WAPPRIITA. Of the total fine, $45,000 was directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund and $5,000 was to be paid as a fine. In addition, the court ordered that the 51 cases of seized product be forfeited..

Several years earlier, in March 2016, the Canada Border Services Agency reported to wildlife enforcement officers that the company would be receiving a shipment of herbal oils in Vancouver. The shipping invoice indicated that the herbal oils contained plant material derived from the Bletilla striata, a species native to East Asia that is also known as the hyacinth orchid or Chinese ground orchid. All orchid species are listed in the CITES. A permit is required to import Bletilla striata into Canada. Enforcement officers inspected and detained 51 cases containing 10,200 vials of the herbal oil.

This is not the first conviction under WAPPRIITA for the importation company. In 2010, the company pleaded guilty to illegally importing one carton of the plant species Nardostachys grandiflora (Spikenard), which is commonly used in dried form as a medicinal herb.

Hyacinth orchid (Bletilla striata) Getty Images
Hyacinth orchid (Bletilla striata) Getty Images

Individual sentenced to pay $20K as a result of ongoing efforts of Operation Bruin

On January 18, 2019, an individual from Alberta was sentenced in court following his conviction on October 26, 2018, for two counts of illegally importing into Canada and possessing a black bear hide from Alaska, United States. The individual was ordered to pay $20,000 for violating WAPPRIITA. The penalty was directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund and the individual was required to forfeit the hide seized during the investigation.

In addition to the fine and forfeiture, the offender is prohibited from hunting outside of Canada for a period of two years and from importing and exporting animals or their parts to and from Canada for a period of two years for reasons not related to his taxidermy business.

This case was initiated under Operation Bruin, an extensive North American investigation into illegal hunting of wildlife in Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, and Yukon. ECCC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Wildlife Troopers and Alberta Justice and Solicitor General (Fish and Wildlife Enforcement) worked together to enforce their respective laws that protect wildlife, after U.S. authorities initially determined that several Alberta hunters were illegally killing Alaskan brown bears and unlawfully importing them into Canada.

To date, six Canadians and two Americans have been convicted in Canada under Operation Bruin for contraventions of WAPPRIITA, with penalties totalling $87,200. In addition, the eight defendants have a combined 28 years of hunting bans and prohibitions against importing and exporting animals to and from Canada. As a result of Operation Bruin, 36 animal trophies and over $100,000 in hunting gear, including an aircraft, a truck, all-terrain vehicles, a boat, and a rifle have been ordered forfeited in both countries. Our United States partners have convicted 12 people under this operation in Alaska.

Seized black bear hide. Photo: ECCC Wildlife Enforcement Directorate
Seized black bear hide. Photo: ECCC Wildlife Enforcement Directorate

Unlawful import of regulated fish into Canada nets $35K penalty for Ontario aquatic pet store

On September 24, 2019, a guilty plea was entered on behalf of a Toronto pet store in the Ontario Court of Justice to a charge laid under WAPPRITTA. The company received a $35,000 penalty, which will be directed toward the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund. Additionally, the company is subject to a court order prohibiting an employee from applying for a permit under the Act, for two years, a requirement for legally importing or exporting species listed under CITES.

On December 7, 2018, an employee imported into Canada, on behalf of the pet store, twenty-six live Asian arowana fish from Malaysia. The trade in arowanas is controlled because the species is listed in Appendix I of CITES, the most trade-restrictive category. For this reason, two CITES permits are required to legally import specimens into Canada, one permit from the country of export and one from Canada, the country of import. The company did not obtain an import permit. The Court also ordered the arowanas be forfeited to the Crown.

Arowana. Getty Images
Arowana. Getty Images

4.3 Collaboration with provincial and territorial partners

As noted in Section 1.3, several provincial and territorial agencies have memorandums of understanding (MOU) or agreements with the federal government allowing designated officers to enforce WAPPRIITA. The collaboration between Canada and its provincial and territorial partners is advantageous, resulting in better coordination of efforts and resources in undertaking wildlife enforcement actions, especially large-scale operations.

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