A man who killed a polar bear on an isolated island in Canada’s Arctic cannot claim self-defence because he got himself into the life-or-death situation in the first place, a judge in Yellowknife has ruled.
Justin Elias, 31, and a friend saw a polar bear when they got to the shore of Garry Island, 148 kilometres from Inuvik, N.W.T., but got off the boat anyway.
That’s a decision that “could have been reversed at any time,” territorial Judge Christine Gagnon said in her decision Monday.
She said that’s why Elias has been found guilty of killing the animal without a bear tag, breaking the rules of the Wildlife Act. Elias was also found guilty of keeping the bear’s pelt.
Elias and friend were hunting whales
Gagnon went over the testimony and agreed statement of facts in court on Monday.
She said in 2018, Elias and his friend, Merreck Allen, were hunting in the Western Arctic. After successfully killing a caribou, they took their boat to Garry Island, hoping to hunt beluga whales.
The boat hit the rocks on the shore. That’s when Elias and Allen saw the polar bear stand up.
Court was told that Allen told Elias, “Make sure he doesn’t come around while I’m scoping for whales.”
At some point, Elias went over a hill on the island. Allen then heard two or three shots. Elias had shot the bear.
Wildlife Act is serious, Crown says
Gagnon says because the life-threatening situation was “clearly foreseeable to a reasonable observer,” it could not be considered a real emergency.
“Not only did they leave their boat and walk ashore, Allen told Elias to keep the bear away,” Gagnon said.
Roger Shepard, the Crown attorney on the case, said he hopes the guilty verdict will make hunters think twice about what animals they’re entitled to harvest.
“The Wildlife Act is a serious piece of law here,” said Shepard outside court. “We’re dealing with a polar bear … a species of concern.”
Shepard said it’s the first trial he’s handled in his 10 years in the territory that involved a debate over self-defence and the Wildlife Act.
Elias is back in court for his sentencing hearing on Nov. 5.
Kate Oja, Elias’s attorney, and Shepard told reporters they don’t expect Elias to spend time behind bars.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: No charges against elder in Arctic Canada for killing polar bear and cub, CBC News
Norway: Could drones help prevent polar bear attacks on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard?, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Authorities in northwest Russia move to protect wild reindeer, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Sweden’s wolf numbers slide, illegal hunting blamed, Radio Sweden
United States: After deadly bear attack, hikers in Anchorage, Alaska weigh risks, Alaska Public Media