Park officers charged for off duty wildlife breach

Environment Yukon is taking two of its own to task for an off-duty breach of the wildlife act. On October 31, Greg McHale and Ryan Leef were both…

Environment Yukon is taking two of its own to task for an off-duty breach of the wildlife act.

On October 31, Greg McHale and Ryan Leef were both charged with using a vehicle for the purpose of hunting or transporting wildlife within the protected area at or near Kluane Lake.

Leef, who operates Ruby Range Outfitters, was also charged with providing false or misleading information or failing to disclose a material fact on documents submitted to conservation officers.

“They’re alleging that one of the numbers on the form is wrong … for whatever reason they want to pursue a charge for an error on a form,” said Leef in an interview.

McHale and Leef were both park officers at the time of the charge, although Leef has since left to work for the office of Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods.

The two are former RCMP officers.

Conservation officer Russell Oborne, who laid the charges, declined to comment while the matter is before the courts.

Leef said that the “factual allegations” against him and McHale aren’t substantiated, but he wouldn’t elaborate before the issue goes to trial.

He said that it would be unfair to tell his side of the story before the government gets a chance to tell its side.

As with any offence under the Yukon Wildlife Act, the maximum penalty is $50,000 and/or 12 months in jail.

However, it is “quite rare” that jail time is ever served for a wildlife offence, said Tony Grabowski, manager of enforcement and compliance at conservation officer services.

The charges are relatively inconsequential, said Leef.

“Quite honestly, it wouldn’t raise the eyebrow of anybody if another outfitter had been charged with the exact same offences,” he said.

“It’s not the same as happening to forget your hunting licence (which is also a Wildlife Act offence),” said Gord Zealand, executive director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association.

“If you’re out hunting in an area with an ATV that you know you’re not supposed to be hunting in, that might not be the biggest infraction — but you know better,” he said.

Leef said he hoped that media coverage on the charges would not tarnish the reputation of the Yukon park service and the conservation officer services.

“I have an affection for both of them and I wouldn’t want to see them caught in something they had nothing to do with,” said Leef.

“I would really hate for the public to get a negative perspective of the two offices.

“There is no connect between the two roles — the role I play as an outfitter and the role I played with the park service,” he added.

He commended the offices for demonstrating a lack of bias in registering the charges.

“What it demonstrates in the (conservation office) services is that they’re treating everybody equally … they’ve separated their knowledge of my employment with the facts of the case,” said Leef.

In 2005, Leef was charged under the Wildlife Act, as an outfitter, with failing to furnish a return.

The charge was stayed.

McHale and Leef are scheduled to register a plea on September 16th.

McHale could not be reached for comment.