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Yukon man and company fined $30,000 after bears feed on cooking oil

After April 2022 trial, Michele Palma and his company were fined by Yukon Territorial Court
A barrel of an unknown substance burns as empty containers lay scattered amongst auto wreckage near the corner of Boulder and Clifton Road in the MacRae East industrial park on July 12 2018. Conservation officers killed three bears due to the dumping of waste. (Yukon News file)

A Yukon company and the man in charge of it were fined a combined $30,000 for failure to clean up cooking oil that attracted bears at two Whitehorse properties.

The sentences for three Wildlife Act charges levied against either the Dawson Group of companies or its director Michele Palma were passed down by Yukon Territorial Court justice Karen Ruddy on Aug. 12. Palma had been found guilty of the charges in April after pleading not guilty and representing himself at trial last year.

The charges stemmed from the failure to clean up bear attractants at two properties, one industrial and one residential, in the MacRae subdivision in 2018. Ruddy ruled that the oil was actually placed at the properties by another man, Joszef Suska or employees working on his behalf. Palma was found to be in charge of the properties and had been the one contacted about the dangerous wildlife protection orders requiring them to be cleaned up.

The presence of the oil drew a number of bears to the area in the summer of 2018. Conservation officers had to kill three food-conditioned black bears in July of that year and also relocate two grizzlies that had not yet become food-conditioned.

In early 2020, Suska plead guilty to five charges relating to the attractants. He and his numbered company were fined $65,000.

Crown counsel Kelly McGill submitted that Palma’s company should be fined $35,000 for failing to clean up the industrial site and that Palma himself should have to pay $15,000 relating to the industrial site and a further $10,000 for the residential property.

Throughout his submissions, Palma maintained that Suska was to blame, both for placing the cooking oil on the properties and for failing to clean it up. He said he spends most of the year in Dawson rather than Whitehorse and relied on Suska to bring the properties into compliance with the orders.

“While he created the problem, you had to ensure you fixed it. That’s what the fine is for,” Ruddy said to Palma during the sentencing.

Palma argued that the attractants at the residential property were largely cleaned up when the order expired and that fines related to it should be nominal. As for the industrial site, he once again argued that Suska was the one who created the danger and that his only failure was not ensuring Suska cleaned it up on time.

Ruddy said this isn’t the sort of offence where a nominal fine is appropriate and fines must be greater than the cost of simply doing business. She also said deterrence must be a primary objective in sentencing and the sentencing must consider both the actual harm caused and the potential harm that might have been caused by the bear attractants.

At sentencing Palma presented material about his personal finances and those of his company. Summarizing the written submission for the court, Ruddy said Palma submitted he lives off a disability pension and that his company operated at a loss for the years he provided information on. Ruddy noted that the company does own some land which could be sold to cover the fine.

The $30,000 fine is broken down into $15,000 for Palma’s company relating to the industrial site and $10,000 for Palma himself; he faces a $5,000 fine for the order related to the residential property.

Half of all the fines received from Palma will be passed on to benefit the Yukon’s Turn in Poachers and Polluters line.

Ruddy noted that Palma is free to appeal both the court’s finding and the sentencing.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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