Songbird smuggler tries to bring 30 birds into Canada
It was a fatal mistake that he'll soon likely pay for, one that could have had catastrophic consequences for Canadian wildlife and citizens.
A Vancouver man has now been charged with trying to smuggle more than two dozen songbirds from Guangzhou, China—where highly pathogenic avian influenza is considered endemic—through the Vancouver International Airport inside his carry-on luggage. A number of the birds died during the effort.
Kwok Sing Lee made his first appearance in Richmond provincial court on Thursday morning, charged with two counts under the Health of Animals Act, and one count of failing to report in person at a customs office. The case has been adjourned to Aug. 2.
David Clements, an agent for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, said the importation of songbirds from China is absolutely prohibited, for fear of disease pathogens the birds might carry.
Because of the serious risk to health to not only other wildlife in Canada, but also Canada's human population, Lee is facing a fine in the range of $10,000, he said.
The fine is based on the risk to Canada, not on the number of birds he was carrying, Clements said.
Canada Border Services spokesperson Jennifer Bourque said Lee returned to Canada on April 13, and was found to be trying to smuggle 29 songbirds in his carry-on luggage. (Clements said the actual number was 30). 21 of the songbirds were still alive, and eight had died en route, said Bourque. (Clements said nine birds died in transit).
Lee didn't declare the birds upon his return to Canada, Bourque said.
"The importation of pet birds is prohibited from certain countries in which highly pathogenic avian influenza is considered endemic. Canada allows the importation of pet birds travelling with their owners, provided that import requirements are met," Bourque said in an e-mail. "The birds were prohibited entry as import requirements were not met."
Charges were sworn against Lee on June 14 and he has still not entered a plea.
In July of 2000, a major Ontario importer of exotic birds was fined $75,000 for smuggling 12,000 finches, the largest fine of its kind at the time, Environment Canada said in a press release.