By Lloyd Dolha
A Duncan provincial court judge has rejected a claim by two Coast Salish First Nations men that their Aboriginal status gave them right to kill bald eagles and sell their parts for ceremonial purposes. On April 28th, Justice Mike Hubbard dismissed that defense and charged two cousins, Jerome Seymour of Duncan and William Seymour of Brentwood Bay from the Stz’uminus First Nation (formerly known as Chemainus), with illegally hunting and trafficking wildlife.
Hubbard convicted Jerome Seymour with 16 of 27 counts related to killing and selling parts of bald eagles, swans, and one kingfisher in Duncan, Ladysmith, and Chilliwack between January 2006 and April 2006. William Seymour was convicted on three of five counts of similar charges. “This is not a decision to be taken lightly,” said Hubbard in handing down his ruling.
Hubbard stated that the two cousins had been selling eagle parts on a commercial basis since 2006. He noted that Jerome Seymour had killed as many as 550 eagles and had once shipped 200 pounds of dead eagles to Quebec. The judge further explained that even if he agreed with the defense’s assertion that hunting eagles was a part of the Seymour’s Aboriginal culture, he would have ultimately rejected it, as the Seymour cousins were found to have trafficked eagle parts commercially rather than giving them to Aboriginal people for ceremonial purposes.
During submissions, defense lawyer George Wood argued that Aboriginal people have been using eagle parts for ceremonial purposes long before the arrival of Europeans in North America and thus have an Aboriginal right protected under the constitution to kill, possess, and traffic in wildlife parts even though such activity is deemed illegal under the provincial Wildlife Act. “If it was an integral part to their distinctive society, then it’s a claim that has to be made out,” said Wool. Hugh Gwillin, counsel for the Crown with the Aboriginal litigation group, argued that defense should be dismissed because it failed to prove the existence of such an Aboriginal right. That argument may be true on some level said Hubbard, but not in the manner in which the Seymours and others were doing, according to previous rulings.
The selling of eagle parts by Aboriginal men came to public attention in the spring of 2005, when the mutilated carcasses of 48 bald eagles were discovered in North Vancouver and Squamish. At that time, the BC Conservation Service launched a number of undercover operations and ultimately charged 11 men, including the Seymours, with unlawful possession of dead wildlife, trafficking in dead wildlife, and hunting wildlife during a closed season. The Seymour cousins have been moving through the court system since 2006, when they were first charged.
At trial in March 2009, John Blackman, environmental Crown prosecutor for Vancouver Island, told the court that an undercover operative received a tip that eagles were being trafficked in the Chemainus-Duncan area. When the undercover operative asked First Nations people of the area where he could get eagle feathers, he was directed to the Seymours. In January 2006, the undercover operative met with Jerome Seymour at a Husky gas station on the Trans-Canada Highway near Ladysmith several times and bought dead eagles for between $80 and $100. In February, Jerome Seymour shot eagles, swans, and one kingfisher and sold them to the undercover operative in Duncan.
Although Wool admitted to the factual evidence against the Seymours, he argued his clients had been entrapped by the conservation service. Hubbard rejected that argument as well. According to the BC Wildlife Act, no one can possess a dead eagle or eagle parts unless authorized by wildlife officials. The penalty for poaching eagles is a fine of up to $50,000 or six months in jail. The penalty for trafficking eagles or eagle parts is as fine up to $100,000 and/or one year in jail. “The Crown will seek incarceration,” said Blackman. The Seymours will appear before Hubbard for sentencing on June 27th.