Hunting guide pleads guilty

A long-established hunting guide outside Oliver could be fined upwards of $30,000 after admitting to baiting and hunting bears with fryer grease and dog food.

James Wiens, 51, pleaded guilty to three Wildlife Act charges in Penticton court Tuesday stemming from an undercover sting orchestrated by the BC Conservation Officer Service on Vaseux Creek Outfitters.

Court heard the BCCOS opened an investigation into Wiens in 2016 after a complaint from the public. Investigators enlisted the help of two conservation officers from Idaho and Washington State.

The sting saw the American officers pose as prospective clients interested in a black bear hunt.

Crown prosecutor John Blackman said Wiens told the undercover officers he had a 100 per cent success rate on black bear hunts.

“He added that they would sit and watch in the afternoons — there were some clover patches and other areas he knows the bears will come into like clockwork every day,” Blackman said.

Instead, over the span of four days during a hunting trip in May 2016, the officers observed and in some cases, photographed, Wiens pouring fryer grease and dog food at various locations to bait bears.

Court heard that Wiens disguised the fryer grease while out in the bush in gasoline jerry cans.

On the morning of the second day of hunting, the men came across a bear feeding at one of the baited sites. Wiens instructed one of the undercover officers to shoot and kill the bear, which they did.

At one point during the trip, Wiens also shot a rifle out of the drivers side of his truck while on private property.

The Crown and defence squabbled over what exactly Wiens was shooting at. The Crown alleged it was a horse, something the defence disputed, only conceding it was a “non-game animal.”

Wiens was previously charged with one criminal count of willfully killing, maiming, wounding or injuring a horse during the same trip, but that charge along with others related to the the hunting of wolves with poison over a seven-month period in 2015 and 2016 were dropped with the guilty plea.

Blackman argued for a penalty in the $25,000 to $30,000 range, in addition to a separate penalty for the $6,300 the undercover officers paid for the trip. The Crown also sought a forfeiture order for the gun used to kill the bear and the $4,000 Polaris side-by-side that transported its carcass.

“Mr. Wiens, being a guide outfitter, was in a position of trust,” Blackman said. “His activities take place in the backwoods of the province, which is vast. It takes a person with character not to be tempted to break the rules.”

Defence lawyer Kevin Church told the court his client inherited his guide outfitter territory from his father at just 19 years old, and aimed to paint the offence as a strictly one-time occurrence.

Church argued that Wiens only deployed the baiting tactics because the undercover officers said they needed a shortened trip because one of their grandmothers was ailing and Wiens had lost his own grandmother just months prior.

Referring to 973-pages worth of disclosure from the Crown, Church noted that the undercover operation was intricately planned in every fashion.

“I have trouble believing the grandmother situation was a coincidence,” Church said.

The defence also argued that any financial penalties should take into consideration the possibility that the provincial government could review and terminate Wiens’ guide outfitting license, which is his primary source of income.

Church asked Judge Michelle Daneliuk to impose a $10,000 fine, inclusive of the forfeiture of the firearm and repayment of the fees collected the hunting trip.

The stark contrast between the defence’s explanation that it was a one-time offence and the Crown’s version, that claims Wiens had used bait to hunt prior to getting charged ended up derailing the sentencing.

Daneliuk pointed out that neither side had presented evidence on that point, something the Crown proclaimed it was willing to do.

The judge directed the matter to be set for a date early next year for her to deliver the sentence, and in the meantime, urged the lawyers to attempt to reach an agreement on whether the offence was an isolated one. If that agreement can’t be reached, Daneliuk said evidence will need to be called by both sides and she will decide for them.

Wiens declined to comment when given the opportunity to do so in court.

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