Bearskin sale brings big trouble

Hickey faces up to six U.S. charges, five years in prison

Bearskin sale brings big troubleWhen the special-care home Dwight Hickey was operating in Sandersville, Ga., ran into financial woes in 2005, the Canadian sold his polar bearskin rug, which he had received in the mail from Yellowknife that June, for $4,000. He soon relocated to New Brunswick, and moved on—or so he thought. But U.S. officials allege that Hickey illegally imported and sold parts of an endangered animal. Now the Fredericton man, who faces six U.S. charges, and up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, is at the centre of one of the most bizarre extradition cases in recent memory.

According to court documents, the disputed bearskin first came to the attention of U.S. authorities shortly after it was sold. The buyer had contacted officials, inquiring about the lawfulness of owning the 1.5-m long rug. He was told he needed a Canadian export permit, and got in touch with Hickey. When the paperwork didn’t arrive, however, the U.S. District Court charged the 55-year-old, alleging he “did unlawfully, knowingly, and intentionally engage in . . . the importation, possession and sale of wildlife.” The U.S. applied for Hickey’s extradition in February; on April 3, he was committed to custody. Now it’s up to the minister of justice to decide whether or not to hand him over—a process that could take up to 150 days.

All along, Hickey has chalked up the debacle to a misunderstanding. He maintains the rug was sent accidentally with his other belongings (he used to live in N.W.T.), and says U.S. officials informed him that because the bear wasn’t hunted (the carcass was initially found on the tundra), paperwork wasn’t required.

Neither U.S. nor Canadian officials would comment on the specifics of the case. As for the suggestion that Hickey’s pending extradition would far exceed the value of the rug, a spokeswoman from the Canadian Justice Department offered this: “We have an obligation when a request comes to us to follow through.” For now, it seems, all Hickey can do is wait.

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