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Canada Has Done Something Environmentally Right!

Yukon-Alaska Border Blitz Nabs Wildlife Smugglers

Published 10/14/10
By Barry Kent MacKay, Senior Program Associate

Here are two news items from the same day — Tuesday, Oct. 12. The big one (in Canada, I mean) was that for the first time ever Canada failed to win a seat at the Security Council of the United Nations. The small one was that after a two-week blitz of the border between the Yukon and Alaska, wildlife officers uncovered more than 50 violations of both federal and territorial wildlife protection laws, and made 23 seizures of parts, or entire carcasses, of protected wildlife species, including walrus, black and grizzly bears, sea otter, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, eagle and bowhead whale.

Oddly, perhaps, both items cheered me.

You see, the first was, the pundits are claiming, a repudiation of many positions Canada has taken of late, under the direction of an extreme-right-wing minority government. Additional to geopolitical positions that certainly make me feel uncomfortable but where I admit to lacking expertise, Canada’s government has been an international pariah on many environmental issues that I am certainly informed about, from global warming to the seal hunt. Those issues include Canada’s position at the last Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in April when it rejected any proposal that would have seen any degree of added protection or monitoring of trade in any Canadian species, including the polar bear — a rare instance of the current Canadian government failing to adhere to U.S. policy. (The United States sponsored the very worthy proposal.)

Pigeons sometimes do come home to roost.

Mind you, in terms of CITES there’s nothing new in this, but from the Alberta oil sands to the rapacious overfishing off our east coast, Canada’s not particularly good environmental record has worsened.

It was not always thus. For example, way back in 1975, Canada joined CITES, which entailed the promise to enact enabling legislation. That took 26 years, but hey, what the country lacked in promptness it made for in quality by putting together something awkwardly called the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and International Trade Act, better known by its acronym, WAPPRIITA. It may be a mouthful, but it works, making it illegal to posses or trade in a species, its part or derivative if said species, its part or derivative was obtained illegally, even in another jurisdiction (rather like the Lacey Act, in the United States, enacted, um, about a century earlier, but we did finally catch up).

And every so often we Canadians are treated to a success story whereby WAPPRIITA and other legislation worked to bring animal smugglers to justice. I recall my delight once years ago when some suspicious caged birds I identified for a colleague who reported them to the authorities proved to be the tip of an enormous bird-smuggling iceberg involving illegal trade in thousands of birds between the United States and Canada, with the bad guys ultimately brought to justice and jailed.

But think of this. Between them, the United States and Canada now arguably have some of the best wildlife protection legislation in the world, and both are rich countries. If the number of alleged wildlife violations on the Yukon-Alaska border took place in a single fortnight, one wonders what’s going on in the rest of the year. One wonders even more what is happening in impoverished countries with porous borders. I fear I know the answer all too well.

But let’s be grateful. The Canada Border Services Agency, Yukon Territorial Conservation Officer Services and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service working cooperatively inspected more than 350 persons or vehicles carrying wildlife or parts of wildlife from Sept. 12 to Sept. 24. And as so often happens, some of what they found has led to still further investigations.

Bravo! I am sincerely pleased. That is a good job well done.

But — and it is a big but — what has gone on since the blitz ended? What goes on elsewhere on this great continent our two countries so peacefully and cooperatively share? What goes on elsewhere? I love to see this battle won, but the war is being lost.

Blogging off,
Barry Kent MacKay

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