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Crown wants unusual sentence for aquatic smuggler

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The Crown is seeking an 18-month conditional jail sentence and $180,000 fine for a Winnipeg man caught trying to build his business through the black-market aquatics industry.

Jason Daeninck, the owner of Salt Water Connection on Henderson Highway, was convicted earlier this year of smuggling protected coral rock, sea horses and giant clams into the city from Indonesia. The case is believed to be the first of its kind in Manitoba.

Daeninck returned to court today for sentencing. Prosecutor Michael Foote said a severe sanction is needed to send a "global" message about the serious nature of what he did.

"The sentence must go beyond just the cost of doing business. It can’t just amount to a licensing fee," Foote said. The maximum sentence that could be imposed is close to $1 million, court was told.

The Crown is also seeking a unique order that would require Daeninck to pay for a display which is going to be set up at the International Peace Gardens containing some of the smuggled coral rock that he imported. There will also be a plaque explaining how it got to Manitoba.

The sentencing hearing has been adjourned until later this summer for defence lawyer Tim Valgardson to make his submission.

Daeninck was found guilty of 18 charges under the federal Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, through both his personal name and business.

Daeninck was arrested in 2007 after Canada Customs intercepted a shipment of more than 9,000 kilograms of scleratinia rock at a port in British Columbia. The rare type of rock is protected because it contains coral. It can only be imported or exported if an international permit is obtained, which wasn't done.

Investigators linked the shipment to Daeninck and got a warrant to search his home and business on Henderson Highway. They learned Daeninck had been involved in other illegal shipments of sea horses and giant clams, which are protected by the same regulations.

None of the protected items were recovered; officials believe they were brought into Canada and then sold on the black market. It's unknown exactly how many made it into the country.

Daeninck fought his case at trial, claiming he had ordered another type of rock that didn't contain coral for the purpose of building a fence in Winnipeg, like one he'd seen on a visit to Indonesia. Daeninck claimed there must have been a mistake in the order and he wasn't responsible.

Provincial court Judge Ray Wyant rejected his version of events, calling it "meek and unbelievable." He said the fence-building story is laughable, considering the type of rock Daeninck claims he was truly trying to obtain would likely not have withstood the rigours of a cold Prairie winter.

"He was playing fast and loose with the international importation of protected species," Wyant said.

Wyant said it's clear Daeninck was trying bolster his own business and "play with the big boys" by bringing in items that would be considered the Holy Grail for black-market buyers.

Investigators also uncovered evidence, largely through seized emails, that Daeninck was involved in creating duplicate sets of invoices to dupe customs officials about the true nature of some of his shipments.

"This was an attempt to come up with a well-concocted explanation in case he got caught," Wyant said.


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