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City businessman slapped with $135,000 in fines, costs

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By Mike McIntyre

A Winnipeg man has been hit with $135,000 in fines and costs for 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 was the first of its kind discovered in the province.

Daeninck returned to court Wednesday for sentencing.

"There is a great need for deterrence. We as a society deal with threats to our planet seriously," said provincial court Judge Ray Wyant. "(The sentence) is going to be more than a slap on the wrist but less than a fatal blow."

Prosecutor Michael Foote was seeking an 18-month conditional jail sentence and up to $180,000 in penalties, saying a severe sanction was needed to send a strong message about the serious nature of Daeninck’s illegal actions.

"The sentence must go beyond just the cost of doing business. It can’t just amount to a licensing fee," Foote said. He noted the maximum fine is close to $1 million. "Winnipeg is as far away from any coral reef as you can possibly get, but these are offences that have a global concern."

Daenick argued such a stiff penalty would be a death blow for his already struggling business. Wyant agreed that a conditional jail term wasn’t necessary but said the environment – which he called the "silent victim" – needs to be protected.

He ordered that 90 per cent of Daeninck’s total fine be given to the federal Environmental Defence Fund.

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. He was initially 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 illegal shipments of sea horses and giant clams, which are protected by the same regulations.

None of those protected items was recovered; officials believe they were 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 to use in 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.

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 trying to obtain would likely not have withstood the rigours of a Prairie winter.

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

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