Poachers get off easy

When I retired from 37 years of law practice in 1998, I thought I was done with court dockets. Not so: I am constantly monitoring the progress (or not) of court cases of importance and interest to outdoors people.

When I retired from 37 years of law practice in 1998, I thought I was done with court dockets. Not so: I am constantly monitoring the progress (or not) of court cases of importance and interest to outdoors people.

My current docket of four cases was recently halved by decisions in two of them, leaving two involving events I wrote about some time ago still awaiting trials in Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench.

One of the still-pending cases involves the criminal negligence using a firearm charge against Herbert Stanley Meister of Lacombe, for allegedly killing Philip Moore, while hunting west of Bentley on Nov. 29, 2010. Adjournment has followed adjournment, and the trial has now been set for Sept. 2 to 9, when we might finally hear the facts on one of Alberta’s mercifully rare human hunting fatalities.

Coming from even farther back than that one is what I understood to be a civil case for damages, etc., arising out of the decision, on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2009, of a respected legal colleague, Keith Conrad, QC, to go for a stroll on a Crown land grazing lease 30 km south west of Pincher Creek. During his walk, Conrad was charged and then gored to death by a bison.

Now I understand the family will not be proceeding, for private reasons, and with that I sympathize even though I am disappointed that important public issues will not get an airing: a trial would have shed glaring light on the decision of the Alberta government to permit bison “ranching” on public land, and perhaps even cause the feds to reconsider their plans to introduce bison to Banff National Park.

A long run through the courts ended recently when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the appeal of Garry Ivan Hirsekorn against his conviction by three Alberta courts for unlicensed hunting out of season for having shot a mule deer on Oct. 20, 2007, in the Cypress Hills. Hirsekorn, through the Métis Nation of Alberta, contended that he needed no licence, and seasons did not apply, because he is a Métis and was hunting for food on traditional hunting grounds.

All courts rejected the arguments for interesting reasons too lengthy to deal with here, but I can say that the higher courts did not deal with one of the best reasons of all for conviction given in the lowest court, provincial court: that Hirsekorn was not hunting for food at all, but really just to set up a test case for the Métis Nation.

Last May, I was visited by a lower North Raven angler who had a fascinating illustrated story to tell. He had bushwhacked in for some early North Raven fly fishing for big brown trout, when he encountered a group of worm fishermen with many dead brown trout, including some of the biggest and best breeders. They had apparently driven their vehicle in over private land.

When my informant mentioned to these people that use of bait is illegal and that the trout limit is zero, one of them told him that those laws don’t apply to them, and gave an absurd excuse I could not divulge at that time, but can now disclose: they claimed to be Métis. That excuse is absurd because the law is that if a zero limit or bait ban applies to everyone, it also applies to aboriginals, including Métis.

Fortunately, my informant is among the many outdoorsmen who now routinely carry excellent digital cameras. He shot a batch of good pictures: poacher portraits, still lives of their dead fish, their cans of worms, their vehicle, including licence plate; in short, a Report a Poacher’s dream of evidence. I was offered digital copies of his shots and would love to have some for this column but, back then, the lawyer deep inside me cautioned that might hurt whatever action Report a Poacher and Environment-Sustainable Resource Development might take on the evidence they were handed.

Frankly, I had little hope. In 2009-10, there were 7,509 poaching tips in Alberta, resulting in only 241 charges. Many times, sometimes on behalf of clients, I reported incidents to Report a Poacher and suspect nothing was done; certainly we never received even the courtesy of a report.

This time my informant was advised the accused did not mention Métis, possibly because they weren’t; certainly there were no brown trout in the North Raven back in the days when it is unlikely that Métis even fished the little river at all.

They pleaded guilty, and were fined $800, which the informant considers absurdly low. It is — they were stealing from the anglers and hunters of Alberta who built and rebuilt the North Raven and its brown trout fishery.

The fines should have been twice what they got and their equipment and vehicle should have been forfeited to the Crown and sold, with fine and funds ordered paid to Trout Unlimited for ongoing work on the North Raven.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.

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