Lab Canada

First use of radiocarbon dating leads to Canadian convictions

Toronto, ON – For the first time, radiocarbon dating technology has been used to obtain a conviction under wildlife law in Canada.

Environment Canada says that Toronto-based Five Star Auctions and Appraisals, and its director, Mrs. Chun Al JIN, pleaded guilty on February 27, 2015, to charges under the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA). The company and its director were fined $9,375 each for a total penalty of $18,750 and ordered to forfeit two elephant ivory tusks to authorities.

In November 2013, Environment Canada enforcement officers learned that two carved elephant ivory tusks—measuring 78 cm and weighing 1.7 kg each—were being offered for sale by a Toronto-based auction house, which claimed the tusks were “antique”. Acting on legal authority, officers temporarily detained the tusks and, using radiocarbon dating technology, both were analyzed by experts at Université Laval and Columbia University. The forensic report revealed that the tusks were from animals killed in 1977 and 1978.

While this age may qualify as “antique” in the auction house world, a person who is knowingly in possession of elephant ivory for the purpose of offering it for sale is in contravention of WAPPRIITA, unless they can establish that the animal was taken from the wild before July 3, 1975, or that the elephant ivory was legally imported into Canada. Elephant ivory legally imported into Canada is exempt from the prohibition. In this case, the offenders pleaded guilty to possessing and offering prohibited ivory for sale.

The case against Five Star Auctions and Appraisals is the first time that radiocarbon dating technology has been used to obtain a conviction under wildlife law in Canada, and one of only a half dozen cases where this technique has been successfully used worldwide.

Elephant poaching and ivory trafficking impacts conservation efforts, as well as threatening social and economic security in many parts of central and eastern Africa. According to the CITES Secretariat, 15,000 elephants were illegally killed during 2012 for their ivory.