By Lisa Joy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Four Saskatchewan residents and one Ontario resident have been convicted in Ontario for unlawfully buying and selling bear gall bladders and paws.
Three Sandy Bay residents – Li Gen Han, 36, Lianshun Li, 36, and Marcel Sewap, 34 – a Saskatoon resident and an Ontario resident were found guilty of wildlife trafficking, officials announced on Feb. 13.
The charges were a result of a two-and-a-half year joint investigation.
“The Saskatchewan Special Investigations Unit received information in early 2017 that a Sandy Bay, Saskatchewan-area restaurant was buying black bear parts,” said Staff Superintendent Lindsey Couillard, Manager, Intelligence and Investigations Services for the Ontario Ministry of National Resources and Forestry.
“Officers in Saskatchewan investigated and learned that individuals from Saskatoon and Toronto were involved in the illegal possession and buying of bear gall bladders.”
Justice of the Peace Paula Liu heard the case against Shun Ji Xue of Toronto and convicted her of unlawfully possessing black bear gall bladders and fined her $3,250.
Ontario Justice Liu also found Sandy Bay resident Li Gen Han guilty of seven charges and handed down a $23,800 fine. Luanshun Li was found guilty of three counts and Marcel Sewap, also of Sandy Bay, were convicted of one count and fined $8,400 and $2,800 respectively. From Saskatoon, Launhua Chi was convicted of seven counts and fined $29,120.
All five were also given a five-year suspension from purchasing hunting licenses.
Dean Grisdale, Manager, Investigations Unit of Saskatchewan Environment, Resource Management and Compliance, said the investigation was covert and it took time to build rapport.
“Once we had established a relationship with the Sandy Bay component we were able to identify other buyers,” he said. “In order to gather evidence on these additional associates the file had to continue normally until the entire enterprise was taken down.”
The Sandy Bay residents pleaded guilty to the charges in Saskatchewan courts in 2019. The Saskatoon restaurateur was found guilty in a Saskatchewan court December 2019.
“The bear parts were all purchased for personal use in the Sandy Bay location as far we could determine,” said Grisdale. “We did have information that the accused in Saskatoon was re-selling some of the product.”
Grisdale said bear gall bladders are believed to have healing properties for many ailments.
“They are also believed to be able to boost energy and perhaps the immune system. In this case the dried contents of the gall was put into vodka and consumed by drinking. Bear paws were skinned and either rendered down for the fat or made into soup. The bear fat was used as a skin conditioner and to heal burns.”
Authorities believe only four bears were killed in the Sandy Bay Area for the purpose of selling their parts.
“We suspect there would have been more before we became involved,” said Grisdale. “Our officers sourced all of the parts we sold from nuisance bears that had been euthanized by Conservation Officers once they had become a risk to human safety.”