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Trumped up charges reveal ignorance and prejudice

May 17, 2017

In November 2015, two Métis Citizens were charged with illegal hunting using a spotlight in the vicinity of Lundar, MB. Typically, when a person is charged with illegal activity, it is because the evidence to support such an allegation is available and undisputable. However, this was not the case here. Instead, the investigation results brought to light questions of what appears to be systemic prejudice and reckless behavior by Conservation Officers. Pre-trial analysis suggested fabricated documents were intended to be relied on as evidence in an effort to make criminals out of Métis Citizens.

During the night in question, the accused had picked their friend up and were driving around on backroads which is something they indicated they often do in a small town. They were stopped by two Conservation Officers with one of the Officers drawing their gun on them and all of them being placed in handcuffs and detained for some time by Officers. When questioned about what they were doing that night, one of the accused signed a one-page written statement where he explained that they were “driving around” and that they were not hunting. When questioned about hunting equipment in their vehicle, the two Métis accused explained they had been hunting earlier in the morning and successfully harvested a deer.

Based on these facts and the law, this case should not have proceeded to trial.

The Métis accused approached the Manitoba Metis Federation and legal counsel was retained to defend the charge against them. In reviewing Conservation’s documents from their investigation into this matter, the Métis accused informed legal counsel that as opposed to a one-page statement, there was now a two-page statement and further, that he did not say the things on page one and that he did not sign page one. When legal counsel reviewed the statement, page one contained an admission to all of the facts that Conservation needed to prove that the accused were hunting – an admission of guilt. The Harvester in question denied signing page one of the statement and provided a number of samples of his signature from official documents that showed the signature on page one to be significantly different from his other known signatures.

In April 2016, legal counsel for the Métis informed the Crown’s lawyers – who would be prosecuting this case on behalf of Conservation – that the Métis accused did not sign page one and that the defence believed the document was forged.

To prepare for trial, legal counsel for the Métis accused was instructed to get a handwriting expert to review the statement to determine if the signature was forged. This was important as the Crown would be using the statement as evidence at trial.

The Manitoba Metis Federation assisted the accused in hiring a handwriting expert. The expert analyzed the document and provided a written report with the opinion that the signature in question was not the signature of the Métis accused. The expert report stated, “Based on my scientific examination and lack of agreement of the unique, identifiable handwriting characteristics and the measurable distinctions in the questioned signature, it is my professional expert opinion that a different person wrote the name of [the Métis accused] on the questioned document. The handwriting characteristics in the questioned [Métis accused] signature do not conform to the handwriting characteristics in the known [Métis accused] signatures. Therefore, it is my professional expert opinion [the Métis accused] did not sign his signature on the questioned document.” This information was provided to the Crown in advance of the trial.

Two days before trial, the Crown decided not to rely on the statement and did not produce it as evidence in the trial.

During their first court appearance in late December 2015, a second charge against both Harvesters of hunting on private land was added.  During trial, Métis legal counsel questioned the private land owner and it was learned the land owner was not contacted by a Conservation Officer until February 2016 to ask about the Métis accused. The private land owner said they knew nothing about the situation and that they did not recall even seeing anyone on their land.

Legal counsel for the Métis accused questioned the Conservation Officers on details contained in their notes which the defence argued, were embellished to make it sound like the Métis accused were hunting.   The Conservation Officers testified that before they went out that night, they were directed by a senior Conservation Officer to “look for and get night hunters”.

Once the judge was presented with all evidence, she decided that the Crown was not able to provide evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the Métis accused were hunting and acquitted them of the charges.

This recent court case exemplifies unprofessional and shameful behavior on behalf of the Conservation Officers involved and displays what can be seen as systemic prejudice as some Officers are harassing Métis citizens both while they are out responsibility exercising their section 35 rights under the Canadian Constitution Act and in cases such as this where they are just “driving down the road”. Since the charges were laid, the Métis Citizens were falsely deemed guilty in the eyes of the public. One of the Métis Citizens accused testified at trial that he has now been referred to in the community as a “dirty Métis”.

During a press conference on Thursday, May 4, 2017, President David Chartrand of the Manitoba Metis Federation stated, “Our Métis Harvesters will not be treated as criminals. They have a right to harvest in our traditional territories and support their families. For every Harvester with a valid Métis Harvester card who is following the Métis Laws of the Hunt, the MMF is prepared to support and defend them, if need be, should they be charged.”

Also during the press conference, President Chartrand called on the Manitoba government to investigate the conduct of the Conservation Officers involved in this case further and charge anyone who might have been involved in forging the signature of the Métis Citizen.

When asked why this was necessary, the President replied that Conservation Officers are mandated to investigate illegal behaviour and to protect our shared resources. They cannot fabricate charges in an effort to harass innocent individuals or to attempt to extinguish inherent rights of the Métis that are enshrined and protected by the Canadian Constitution as one of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.

“I am not sure if this is simply the act of an overzealous individual who thinks he or she is satisfying a political order,” said President Chartrand. “Actions such as these reveal an ugly streak of prejudice and ignorance. A simple review of our Metis Laws of the Harvest would reveal our commitment to strong and effective conservation efforts.”

In September 2012, the Manitoba Metis Federation and the Manitoba government under Premier Greg Selinger signed Points of Agreement providing for the recognition of Métis harvesting rights in mutually agreed to regions of the province, and relies on the MMF’s Metis Laws of the Harvest. As well, in these regions, the MMF Harvester Cards are recognized as a means to identify Métis harvesters.

Since then, the MMF has worked diligently and in good faith with the province of Manitoba on matters of responsible harvesting, conservation and the further provincial recognition of Métis territory. In September 2015, the MMF and the Manitoba Government signed a second agreement putting into place concrete steps to a further recognition of the traditional territories of the Métis Nation’s Manitoba Métis Community.

Tensions have been rising since the Premier’s comments about ‘race war’ starting over Indigenous hunting. The provincial government must investigate this matter.

“We are disappointed, and concerned, about these recent events,” said President Chartrand. “It is my hope that the Manitoba government will take a sincere and hard look at this prejudicial and egregious behaviour.”

The Manitoba Metis Federation encourages all Métis Harvesters to continue abiding by the Metis Laws of the Harvest. Any Métis Harvester who is stopped by a Conservation Officer, should answer the Officer’s questions. The Manitoba Metis Federation also encourages Harvesters to take note of the date, time and interaction they have for future reference. If at all possible, Harvesters should take note of the Conservation Officer’s name and badge number should there be a need to address the outcome of the interaction. The Manitoba Metis Federation takes very seriously the mutual responsibility for safety of all people enjoying Manitoba’s natural resources.

If any Métis Harvesters have any concerns about the Metis Laws of the Harvest or their interaction with the province’s Conservation Officers, the MMF has asked that they please contact their MMF Regional Office or the Natural Resources Office of the Manitoba Metis Federation. The Home Office of the MMF can be reached at (204) 586-8474 or by email at info@mmf.mb.ca.

 

**Re-printed from Grassroots News


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