Operation Ring Bear
The unlawful sale of bear parts is still very much illegal in all provinces in Canada. Severe penalties and public education have possibly resulted in investigations and occurrences where the unlawful sale is reported or found.
The recent convictions in Saskatchewan and Ontario in the unlawful sale of bear parts, which you will be reading about shortly, goes to show that although the illegal activity may have slowed, it is not wiped out. Provinces like British Columbia and Ontario may continue to see an increase in the possession and unlawful export of these parts due to their position as transportation hubs that serve as gateways to foreign markets. Seizures at airports and investigations over the past five years have led officers to believe that perhaps this type of illegal activity has gone underground and those involved are much more efficient in exporting these parts to markets where they have much more value.
In Saskatchewan alone, the small instances where investigations into the unlawful trade of bear parts may make some think that it is not an issue anymore. Dean Grisdale, Manager of Investigations with the Ministry of Environment, agrees partly with this assessment. “I think that was the perception. Certainly it doesn’t seem to be at the level we were accustomed to in the 1990s and early 2000s, however, I believe that there is, and always has been, a market,” says Grisdale. In his time as manager of this unit, he feels that galls have reappeared on our radar over the last three years. One new thing that officers have discovered is that a portion of those individuals who consume these galls have now also become the people actually killing the bears, both legally and illegally. The individuals involved in the investigation in Saskatchewan were brazen, with no fears of consequences. “There hasn’t been a lot of enforcement action, at least in Saskatchewan, on gall trafficking prosecutions which may contribute to the illegal activity,” says Grisdale.
Lindsey Couillard, Staff Superintendent and Manager of Intelligence and Investigation Services with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, feels that there is still an active market for bear parts. “The illegal wildlife trade is based on demand for the product. The illegal black market for bear gall bladders exists and fuels the demand,” she says.