Lawyer claims undercover investigation into Sask. bear parts trafficking was entrapment

The lawyer for a 55-year-old Saskatoon woman claims conservation officers went too far during an investigation into the illegal sale of bear parts.

The investigation saw two officers pose as bear hunters, who sold Lianhua Chi illegal bear gallbladders and paws at her restaurant in Saskatoon between December 2016 and August 2017.

While Chi’s lawyer doesn’t dispute that she bought the parts, he says that the investigation went on for too long and led Chi to buy parts from the officers.

“The issue is continually charging her over and over again for ten months,” said defence lawyer Jake Watters.

“There doesn’t seem to be a point to it.”

Watters argued the conservation officers entrapped Chi because they went forward with the undercover investigation without reasonable evidence that she had broken the law, and is asking for a stay of proceedings.

Chi was charged as part of a larger investigation that looked at bears that were being hunted in northern Saskatchewan and sold to people in the province’s Asian community.

Bear gallbladders (as well as bear paws) are highly prized by practitioners of Chinese medicine and are used for everything from liver disease to epilepsy. However, hunting bears to harvest the organs is illegal in Canada, driving up the price.

Black bears from the landfill

The investigation started in the community of Sandy Bay, Sask., where RCMP officers had heard someone was shooting black bears at the town landfill, and selling their parts to the managers of the local restaurant.

During the initial investigation, officers asked the store managers if they knew anyone else who might be interested in buying bear parts from them. 

One of the managers, Li Gen Han, pointed the officers to his “aunty,” Lianhua Chi, the owner of a Korean restaurant in Saskatoon, and gave them her phone number.

For the next year and a half, two undercover conservation officers visited Chi at her restaurant. They testified Chi bought 25 gallbladders from them, as well as numerous bear paws and legs.

Conservation officers keep a supply of bear parts in reserve to be used for trafficking investigations. The parts come from “problem” bears that are threatening communities.

During the trial, the officers testified Chi said she sold the illegal bear parts to friends and family. 

The officers said Chi agreed to the price of $300 per gallbladder. She told the officers that she often gave the gallbladders to friends, who would then offer her $300 per item.

They say she also agreed to buy bear paws for $20, and bear ‘arms’ (the bear leg with the shoulder attached) for $25.

Looking for buyers

While the officers were interested in pursuing charges against Chi, they were also interested in finding out more information on anyone else she may have been selling to.

The officers said Chi identified three people in Saskatoon she regularly sold to. She also said she sold gallbladders and paws to two of the cooks in her restaurant.

While the undercover officers tried to set up meetings with some of the local buyers, they were never able to identify them.

Officers were able to get contact information for a friend of Chi’s in Toronto. Officers passed the information along to their colleagues in Ontario.

The officers also testified that Chi talked about smuggling bear parts into China, wrapping them in clothing and taking them into the country.

During the trial, Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga said it was clear that the officers were trying to uncover as much information about the bear parts trade in Saskatchewan as possible.

“Many undercover cases go on for months as officers try to indentify higher or lower members in an organization,” said Miazga.

“That’s clearly what conservation officers were trying to do here.”

Miazga also noted that Chi haggled with the officers over the size and price of the gallbladders she was receiving.

“That sounds to be someone who’s fully involved in the process.”

Chi took the stand

During the second day of the trial, Chi took the stand in her own defence. She said she was only acting as a ‘go-between’ for the cooks, who were buying all of the bear parts. Chi was told that if that were true, she would still be guilty of trafficking.

Chi also told the court her English was poor, and she didn’t understand much of what the conservation officers were saying, especially when they were discussing that buying the bear parts was illegal.

Defense lawyer Jake Watters also noted that while Li Gen Han identified Chi as a potential contact, he may have done so purely because she spoke English better than the other cooks.

Li Gen Han and Li Luanshuan from Sandy Bay pleaded guilty to numerous counts of trafficking in animal parts and were fined $30,000.

The trial ended today, and the judge reserved his decision until Dec. 19.