SASKATOON — Three young men who filmed themselves gleefully blasting ducks out of a Saskatchewan pond and then posted the video on YouTube were “stupid, reckless and irresponsible,” a judge in Saskatoon said Monday as he fined the men thousands of dollars for their actions.
David Fraser, James Fraser and Jeremy Rowlands pleaded guilty to breaking several federal and provincial wildlife laws in an incident that sparked widespread public outrage.
The video, which was shown in court, shows the men laughing and cheering each other on as at least two of them use rifles to shoot the ducks and ducklings.
“Did you get the baby?” asks one of the men while another calls it a “massacre.”
“I totally regret that day,” James Fraser told the court after entering the guilty plea. “I’m very sorry that everybody had to see that.”
The men stood side by side in court and apologized for their behaviour. They said they were new to Saskatchewan, having recently moved west from Ontario, and were not aware of the hunting laws.
Justice Doug Agnew suggested that was no excuse.
“The risk of harm was pretty substantial,” said Agnew. “It’s pretty clear that you committed the offence intentionally.”
The men pleaded guilty to unlawful hunting, hunting out of season, discharging a firearm from a vehicle and leaving edible game to be wasted.
They faced a maximum penalty of $100,000 for the provincial offences and $300,000 under federal laws, with the possibility of six months jail time. Agnew accepted that they were remorseful and fined the Frasers $5,000 each and Rowlands $6,000. He also ordered them to turn over the rifles.
Outside the courthouse, David Fraser said the men “really didn’t think” their actions were reckless.
“At the time that we did what we did, we didn’t know it was a crime and we had no idea that bullets ricocheted off water,” said David Fraser. “We made every effort at the time to make sure that there was nothing within eye view on the horizon of anywhere that we shot and the footage shows that.”
When asked why they posted the video on YouTube, Fraser said: “Because at the time we thought it was funny and it wasn’t a crime. We thought we were just having fun, really immature, stupid fun.”
Fraser said the experience has been educational and they learned a lesson about Canada’s hunting laws.
Darrell Crabbe, executive director of the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, said even hunters were outraged by the case because what the trio did was both illegal and immoral.
“I was disgusted,” he said of his reaction to first seeing the video. “Those birds were moulting at that time. Of course, the young are unable to fly anyway. It’s all about the ethics in this situation.”
“The hunting fraternity in Saskatchewan and other conservationists really jumped on board. It was great to see so many people focused in on this. The ethical hunting community really took this upon themselves to make this right.”
Brian Petrar with Environment Canada said the case really had nothing to do with hunting.
“It was people using birds as target practice,” he said outside court.
An investigation was started last week after the video surfaced.
Authorities did not know the location where the shooting happened but suspected it was somewhere in Saskatchewan or Alberta because there was a road sign visible and there were blooming fields of canola in the background.
The video prompted a flood of tips from the public.