The Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation is asking the courts to quash the search warrant that wildlife officers used last month to search a culture camp for evidence of illegal caribou hunting.
If the warrant is quashed, it could mean the territorial government can not use any of the evidence it seized during the search in any prosecution for the illegal hunting, throwing its case into jeopardy.
In a Yellowknife courtroom on Monday, territorial government lawyer Roger Shepard said no one has been charged as a result of the investigation.
No one in the territorial government, including Environment and Natural Resources Minister Shane Thompson, has been willing to speak publicly about the case. In a news release, ENR said the investigation was sparked by two independent tips that illegal caribou hunting had occurred in a no-hunting zone.
Based on the tips, investigators got a warrant to search the culture camp. According to Łutsel K’e Dene officials, two wildlife officers helicoptered into the camp on Artillery Lake and searched tents and tipis for hours, seizing samples of meat they found. There were approximately 80 youth, adults and elders, as well as a delegation from New Zealand, at the camp at the time.
In court on Monday, the lawyer for the Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation, Larry Innes, said it is “highly unusual” for a justice of the peace to issue a search warrant that would allow such a broad search, or that no conditions were placed on the warrant limiting the search.
All search warrants are issued, or denied, on the basis of a sworn statement from investigators setting out the evidence they have to believe, firstly, that an offence has been committed, and, secondly, why they think a search of a particular place would turn up additional evidence.
The sworn statement used to get the warrant to search the culture camp is sealed by court order. On Monday, Deputy Justice John Vertes ordered that it be unsealed. Shepard said the government is concerned about revealing the identities of the confidential informants who provided information about the illegal hunting.
Vertes ordered Shepard to review the sworn statement and redact any information that could identify the informants, then provide copies to Innes, along with the transcript of the hearing where the warrant was granted. The judge said the sworn statement would then be resealed.
The two sides are scheduled to return to court on Oct. 24.
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