Conservation officers went undercover to investigate a South Okanagan hunting guide outfitter who now potentially could be fined upwards of $30,000 for Wildlife Act offences.
James Wiens pleaded guilty to baiting an animal, feeding or attempting to feed dangerous wildlife and hunting from a motor vehicle when Crown and defence could not agree on what information they wanted Judge Michelle Daneliuk to weigh in her decision.
In the joint agreed statement of facts Crown counsel John Blackman said conservation officers from Washington State and Idaho went undercover contacting Wiens, operator of Vaseux Creek Outfitters, in 2016 about setting up a black bear hunt. The officers told Wiens one of them would be hunting, the other was tagging along to take photos with his friend. Wiens claimed a 100 per cent success rate on his hunts and a contract was signed between the parties at the rate of $4,000 U.S. plus the hunting license fee and about $100 a day for the friend to come along.
Wiens told the undercover officers that he knew places that the bears come to like “clockwork” everyday. According to Crown counsel, on May 9, 2016, the officers went out on the hunt and noted that an assistant to Wiens said in front of them that he had put out two bags of dog food.
“At 10 a.m., the undercover operators observed Mr. Wiens pouring a semi-thick brownish liquid out of a red gas can onto some old logs,” said Crown.
Over the next hour, the operators were taken to two baiting sites, which they noted smelled like fried chicken, and the two observed signs of grease saturation on logs. Photos of Wiens and his assistant baiting the sites were submitted as evidence.
Later that morning, Wiens asked the non-hunting friend to pass him the .17 calibre rifle in the truck and he was observed shooting outside the driver’s side window. While the Crown argued that Weins’ target was a large animal, believed to be a horse, the defense said that was not an agreed upon fact.
On the second day of hunting at 7:45 a.m., the trio came across a black bear feeding at one of the baited sites. Wiens instructed the undercover officer to shoot the bear and it was killed at that site. In addition over the course of a few days, operators saw Wiens dumping out dog food, placing bait and pouring out fryer grease at several sites.
Crown counsel was asking for the judge to consider a global fine on the three counts of $25,000 to $35,000, as well as, the forfeiture of the seized .17 calibre rifle, its ammo and a Polaris ATV.
“Mr. Wiens being a guide outfitter was in a position of trust. His activities take place in the backwoods of the province, and the province is vast. It takes a person of character not to be tempted to break the rules. The crown says it is ironic that in the contract he sent out, that all hunts will be pursuant to the Wildlife Act,” said Crown counsel Blackman.
While Crown argued that fines could be upwards of $100,000 and one year in jail, defence lawyer Kevin Church provided case law of fines as low as $230 and noted that it is not illegal to hunt black bears and they are not a endangered species.
Church insinuated that Wiens felt rushed to ensure the undercover officers had a successful hunt because they told him at some point that one of their grandmother’s had fallen ill and they needed to leave sooner than expected. That is the reason why he had chosen to use the bait. It was a inference that Crown counsel took issue with as there was no submissions into evidence that it induced the illegal acts and he alleged there is information that this was not the first time Wiens used these hunting tactics. Church denied that allegation and said Crown had also not submitted any evidence to prove that.
Church is asking for a fine in the range of $10,000 and forfeiture of the rifle.
Daneliuk ordered the two sides to speak further to resolve what information they are providing to her as evidence for sentencing in their joint submission and they will return in early December to fix a date for sentencing in early 2019.
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