A Whitehorse resident has been convicted of violating the Wildlife Act when he shot and killed two wolves near his home in the Mount Sima subdivision in 2013.
Clayton Thomas was found guilty of hunting wolves without permission, inappropriate use of a firearm and trafficking in wildlife. Seven other charges were stayed.
Territorial court judge Donald Luther found that Thomas’s status as a member of the Tahltan First Nation in British Columbia did not give him aboriginal rights to hunt and trade wolves in the Whitehorse area.
Thomas has always acknowledged that he shot the wolves in April 2013. But he has claimed that he acted to protect his neighbourhood, and that the wolves had been killing dogs in the area.
“I did this for a reason,” he told the News in 2013. “I knew that I was going to get caught. I knew what I was doing was right. And I knew that I was breaking the law.”
The Yukon Wildlife Act states that animals can only be killed by residents in such situations if they pose an immediate threat of “grievous bodily harm” or of “irrecoverable and substantial damage to property.” According to an agreed statement of facts, the wolves did not pose that kind of threat when Thomas shot them.
Ultimately, Thomas’s claim that he was defending his neighbours did not form the basis of his defence. Instead, he was represented by his uncle, Kusta, who attempted to show through oral history that the Tahltan people have the right to hunt around Whitehorse.
He argued that it was common for young men to travel and hunt outside the Tahltan territory in northwestern British Columbia as a rite of passage.
But Luther was not convinced.
“There is not a general aboriginal right to hunt anywhere,” he said in his decision. “It is site-specific. The defense has failed to satisfy me… that the (Tahltan) ever hunted in Whitehorse and if they did, that it was an integral part of their distinctive culture.”
He pointed out that Tahltan traditional territory appears to extend into the Yukon only around Rancheria, “a considerable distance to the east of Whitehorse.”
He also said that assigning hunting rights based on where people travelled during rites of passage would “be inviting chaos in the overall scheme of aboriginal rights.”
“If courts were to accept hunting rights from numerous First Nations based on rites of passage, there would be much confusion, a totally unsatisfactory system put into place, which would likely create considerable friction between aboriginal people, make enforcement nigh impossible and ultimately pose a risk to sensible and lawful conservation.”
According to the agreed statement of facts, Thomas did not have permission from his neighbours to hunt near their homes, nor did he report the killing of the wolves to a conservation officer.
He also made a deal to have a friend claim that the wolves had been trapped on his Yukon trap line so that they could be sealed. The two planned to collect a $200-per-hide bonus from the Yukon Outfitters’ Association and to split the cash between them. That deal ultimately fell through.
A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for March 18, 2016.
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