Big-game hunters from Mexico legally shot and killed three polar bears this week in Canada's North but were stopped in their tracks when they tried to take the hides out of the country without the proper permits.
A Winnipeg judge blasted them with $80,000 in fines Friday, days after the hunting trip to Nunavut.
Acting on a tip, Environment Canada wildlife officers and Canada Border Services agents searched the men's private jet last Sunday as it refuelled in Winnipeg and found three polar bear hides and narwhal tusks.
The men did not have the proper export permits.
The four men pleaded guilty in provincial court Friday and paid their fines in cash.
Defence lawyer Evan Roitenberg, who represented three of the men -- a 67-year-old man and his two adult sons -- described his clients as "gentlemen of means" who simply made a mistake by trusting an outfitter who promised to provide all necessary permits.
The four men travelled to Canada on March 15 from Monterrey, Mexico, aboard a private jet, after paying $35,000 each to participate in an Arctic big-game hunt.
Polar bears are protected under Canadian law and international treaty, so polar bears can only be harvested by Inuit hunters for sustenance, or by sport hunters guided by Inuit.
Hector Martinez, Sr., 67, is a property developer in Monterrey, where he also owns 26 ranches.
Court was told he is an enthusiastic hunter who travels the world in search of big game.
The group included Martinez's two sons, Hector Armando Martinez, 38, and Alejandro Martinez, 35 -- also from Monterrey and who work for their father's property-development firm -- and Martinez's godson, Gerardo Rodriguez, 41, described as a small businessman in Monterrey who is also a silent partner in a restaurant in Vancouver.
Federal prosecutor Erin Magas told court the polar bear hunt was legal. Local hunters in Nunavut are issued tags annually to allow them to hunt polar bears. They can use the tags to hunt or sell the tags to big-game hunters who travel to the North from all over the world.
Court was told the men bagged three polar bears on their trip.
However, a separate export permit is needed to take polar bear hides out of the country, which, Magas said, involves an international convention designed to monitor the polar bear population and determine how many should be culled every year.
The senior Martinez, his son, Alejandro, and Rodriguez had gone to Resolute Bay to hunt polar bears.
Hector Armando Martinez and two other Mexican men had gone to Cambridge Bay to hunt muskox.
The three men each shot and killed a polar bear and had been provided a territorial export licence to take the hides to Edmonton to a taxidermist.
Court was told they believed the taxidermy fees were too high and changed their plans to take the hides directly to Mexico.
They flew to Winnipeg, where Hector Armando Martinez was waiting for them after he had finished hunting muskox.
Environment Canada wildlife officers, along with Canadian border agents, searched the jet and found the polar bear hides and narwhal tusks.
Without the proper export permits, the items were seized.
Magas told court that even with proper export permits, the Mexican government does not allow the importation of mammals or mammal hides into its country, and the four men would not have been legally allowed to take them into the country.
Magas said Martinez Sr. had a 1994 conviction in the U.S. for trying to smuggle live wild exotic animals into Mexico, including an African lion, three tigers, a bobcat, three black bears, two jaguars and a leopard. He pleaded guilty to that offence and was fined $10,000.
Roitenberg said the men relied on the outfitter who provided them with an export permit to take the hides to Edmonton but they also believed the permits were sufficient to get the hides out of Canada.
He said what they did was wrong but not intentional.
Roitenberg said the senior Martinez is an advocate of animal and wildlife protection, adding that among his 26 ranches in Mexico, some are dedicated game preserves.
The senior Martinez was given a $30,000 fine; Hector Armando Martinez was fined $10,000; Alejandro Martinez was fined $20,000; and Rodriguez was fined $20,000.
Court was told the $80,000 in fines would be directed to a federal program, the Environmental Defence Fund, which allocates money to environmental groups around the country.
The polar bear hides and narwhal tusks were forfeited.
The four men paid their fines in cash and left court early Friday afternoon, heading to the airport where the private jet waited to take them back to Monterrey.