Court sides with conservation officer in confrontation over night hunting on OKIB reserve

Tense hunting confrontation

A provincial court judge has sided with a conservation officer over a confrontation on Okanagan Indian Band land about night hunting with a spotlight.

In his decision posted June 23, Judge Jeremy Guild found the testimony of conservation officer Micah Kneller more believable than that of Michael Tom.

Tom and relatives who were in his truck at the time agree they were hunting on the OKIB reserve Nov. 16, 2019.

Another band member called conservation, and Kneller responded, testifying that he talked to the driver and seized a loaded rifle.

"At that point, the versions of events differ significantly between the Crown and defence," Guild wrote in his judgment.

Kneller said Tom and a relative identified only as Mr. Bonneau acted in a threatening and aggressive way, forcing Kneller to leave and call police for backup.

The Crown alleged that Tom refused to identify himself and obstructed Kneller in executing his duties. He was charged with obstruction under the Wildlife Act.

Tom, however, testified that he had no interaction with Kneller and asserted the conservation officer had no authority on First Nations land.

Coming upon the scene on a muddy dirt road, Kneller testified that he saw a light flashing quickly, scanning the hillside.

"He found a blue truck with one light out coming down the muddy track towards him. He turned on his emergency lights and stopped the vehicle ... He went to the driver's side window, which was rolled down. He smelled an odour of liquor and saw a high-powered hunting rifle with a scope on it, with the barrel pointing towards the floor, in between the driver and the front passenger," Guild wrote.

He asked the driver to open the bolt, and a bullet ejected from the chamber, while more bullets were visible in the rifle.

Two women and one man were sitting in the back of the cab. Empty beer cans were seen in the vehicle.

Kneller said Tom exited the truck (which he denied), was swearing, pointing and yelling at him to "get off the land because he had no jurisdiction."

After Bonneau joined in and the two angrily advanced towards him, Kneller left for his own safety, taking the seized gun and calling RCMP.

The blue truck drove off and a short time later Kneller came upon the truck parked across the road, blocking his path as police gathered nearby with guns drawn.

Kneller arrested Tom and turned him over to police, who eventually were able to get his name.

"Despite having conducted thousands of such investigations over his career, mostly in Northern B.C., he had always been able to de-escalate a situation and complete his investigation. He had never had to disengage as he did on this night," Guild wrote.

Tom admitted that all five were hunting with the spotlight. "From his perspective, since no shots were fired, they were not hunting, but they were using lights to look for animals and that if they saw one they would have shot it," the judge wrote.

Tom claimed it was legal to hunt on reserve land with a light and said he was an experienced hunter, but that regulations did not apply on OKIB land.

Guild found Tom and his relatives changed their testimony at times, which "did not assist in the defence narrative."

"There is no doubt the police responded to (Kneller's) call and attended in numbers and force. I conclude they would not have done so if the interaction was peaceful and not confrontational, as the defence witnesses claimed, whatever happened. All the police did was assist in completing Mr. Kneller’s investigation by getting the names of those he thought were involved in hunting contrary to the Wildlife Act...

"It would make no sense for Mr. Kneller to fabricate a story, immediately call police to support that fabrication, then come to court and perjure himself, all in aid of convicting someone he did not know and could not identify until after the police got Mr. Tom to provide his name. That is supportive of credibility. In other words, there is nothing to detract from Mr. Kneller’s honesty and accuracy."

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