Clayton Stoner's dad says he doesn't believe 'Cheeky' the grizzly bear existed

In this March 15, 2015, file photo, Anaheim Ducks' Clayton Stoner is shown during an NHL game against the Nashville Predators in Anaheim, Calif. The father of National Hockey League defenceman Clayton Stoner is sharing what he says is the "real story" of a 2013 grizzly bear hunt that led to a conviction against his son.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Christine Cotter

VANCOUVER - The father of National Hockey League defenceman Clayton Stoner is sharing what he says is the "real story" of a 2013 grizzly bear hunt that led to a $10,000 fine for his son.

Ken Stoner says in a Facebook post published Thursday that since the news broke almost three years ago, it has been extremely hard on his entire family to listen to "lies" being told.

"I have chosen to go public with the real story about this bear hunt to put it in the proper light. It is not meant to promote hunting and it is not in support of the anti-hunting groups, it's just 'the truth,'" he says.

"I hope it helps show the public the level that supposedly 'good people' are willing to lower themselves to for their cause, not caring whose reputation they destroy along the way."

The case first gained media attention in fall 2013 when graphic photos were published of Clayton Stoner holding a severed grizzly bear head.

Environmentalists and First Nations claimed the animal was Cheeky, a beloved tourist attraction in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest.

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service announced charges, including one count of hunting without a licence, in 2014. The service said Stoner didn't qualify as a B.C. resident when he applied for a resident hunting licence.

On Wednesday, the lawyer for the Anaheim Ducks player pleaded guilty on his behalf to hunting without a licence, prompting a judge to issue a three-year hunting ban and the fine under a provincial statute. The Crown dropped all other charges.

Wildlife advocates had long estimated Cheeky's age to be five years old, but court heard that DNA tests requested by the defence showed the bear was 18 years old.

"I don't believe there ever was a bear named Cheeky," says Ken Stoner. "I believe once (anti-hunting advocates) found out Clayton played in the NHL they saw it as a way to bring awareness to their cause."

First Nations representatives and a conservation group have maintained the dead bear was Cheeky, saying they may have been mistaken about the animal's age and that Stoner was seen interacting with the bear hours before the kill.

But Ken Stoner says their First Nations hunting guide never mentioned a bear named Cheeky or any other bear with which anyone had a relationship, even after the animal was killed.

He says the possibility that his son didn't qualify for a resident hunting licence never crossed anyone's mind, as he was born, raised and owns a home on Vancouver Island.

"Our Vancouver Island-born-and-raised son grew up hunting and fishing. He lives between Canada and the U.S. because of his seasonal job," says Ken Stoner.

"He shot a legal bear, in legal season, in a legal area with a licence that he incorrectly assumed he was qualified for. He is only guilty of a miscalculation of the days he lived outside Canada that year."

William Housty, a spokesman for the Heiltsuk Nation, read a victim impact statement on Wednesday in court, where he said Cheeky being killed for sport was contrary to First Nations law.

"The fact that Cheeky's remains were left in an estuary to rot, while parts of him were taken as trophies, is one of the most disrespectful and inhumane actions one can do to a living being."

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

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