Photo: archive photo
A provincial court judge sided with a conservation officer in a confrontation on Okanagan Indian Band land over nighttime hunting with a searchlight.
In his decision released on June 23, Judge Jeremy Guild found the testimony of conservation officer Micah Kneller more credible than that of Michael Tom.
Tom and his relatives who were in his truck at the time agree that they were hunting in the OKIB reserve on November 16, 2019.
Another gang member called conservation, and Kneller answered, testifying that he spoke to the driver and grabbed a loaded gun.
“At this point, the versions of events differ significantly between the Crown and the defence,” Guild wrote in its judgment.
Kneller said Tom and a relative identified only as Mr. Bonneau acted in a threatening and aggressive manner, forcing Kneller to leave and call the police for reinforcements.
The Crown alleged that Tom refused to identify himself and obstructed Kneller in the performance of his duties. He was charged with obstruction under the Wildlife Act.
Tom, however, testified that he had no interaction with Kneller and asserted that the conservation officer had no authority over First Nations lands.
Arriving at the scene on a muddy dirt road, Kneller testified that he saw a light flashing rapidly, sweeping down the side of the hill.
“He found a blue truck with an unlit light coming down the muddy track towards him. He turned on his hazard lights and stopped the vehicle…He went to the driver’s side window, which was rolled down. He smelled alcohol and saw a very powerful shotgun with a scope on it, barrel pointing down, between the driver and front passenger,” Guild wrote.
He asked the driver to open the bolt and a bullet was ejected from the chamber, while other bullets were visible in the rifle.
Two women and a man sat in the back of the taxi. Empty beer cans were seen in the vehicle.
Kneller said Tom got out of the truck (which he denied), swearing, pointing at him, and yelling at him to “get off the lot because he has 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 the RCMP.
The blue truck drove off and soon after Kneller ran into the truck parked across the road, blocking his path as police gathered nearby with guns drawn.
Kneller arrested Tom and handed him over to the police, who were eventually able to get his name.
“Although he has conducted thousands of such investigations over his career, mostly in northern British Columbia, he has always been able to defuse a situation and complete his investigation. never had to disengage like he did that night,” Guild wrote.
Tom admitted that all five were hunting with the spotlight. “From his point of view, since no shots were fired, they weren’t hunting, but they were using lights to look for animals and if they saw one they would have shot it,” said writes the judge.
Tom claimed it was legal to hunt on reserve land with a light and said he was an experienced hunter, but the regulations did not apply on OKIB land.
Guild found that Tom and those close to him sometimes changed their testimony, which “did not help the defense narrative”.
“There is no doubt that the police responded to (Kneller’s) call and intervened in numbers and force. I conclude that they would not have done so if the interaction had been peaceful and non-confrontational, as defense witnesses testified, whatever happened.Everything the police did helped complete Mr. Kneller’s investigation by obtaining the names of those he believed to be involved in hunting contrary to the Wildlife Act…
“It wouldn’t make sense for Mr. Kneller to fabricate a story, immediately call the police to support that fabrication, and then show up in court and perjure himself, all to help convict someone he did not know and could identify only after the police got Mr. Tom to provide his name. This builds credibility. In other words, there is nothing that can harm the honesty and accuracy of Mr. Kneller.”