OKIB member found guilty after hunting incident with conservation officer | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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OKIB member found guilty after hunting incident with conservation officer


An Okanagan Indian Band member has been found guilty of obstructing a B.C. conservation officer for refusing to give his name while hunting at night on the reserve.

At the Vernon courthouse, B.C. Provincial Court Judge Jeremy Guild found Michael Thomas Tom guilty of obstruction June 23, following a three-day trial earlier this year.

The incident dates back to November 2019 and provoked the Okanagan Indian Band to summon its lawyers and demand why the officer was there in the first place.

According to the June 23 B.C. Provincial Court decision, during the trial Tom and several witnesses all stated the conservation officer was trespassing and had no right to be on Okanagan Indian Band land.

However, Tom's lawyer did not challenge the legalities of the conservation officer being on first nation land and did not allege any Charter of Rights violations.

The decision says in November 2019 the B.C. Conservation Officer Service received a call from a band member about people hunting on the reserve at night using a spotlight.

Conservation officer Micah Kneller was deployed to the area and discovered a truck containing five people.

The decision says Kneller spoke to the driver, Johnny Bonneau, and seized a loaded rifle from the front of the truck. The truck was also littered with empty beer cans.

The decision says Bonneau identified himself to the conservation officer, was cooperative, and not confrontational. Bonneau told the officer he had the right to hunt on the land and that the conservation officer was trespassing.

Bonneau was later charged with the careless storage of a firearm, dangerous hunting and possessing a firearm without a licence. However, the charges were stayed by Crown prosecutors earlier this year.

The conservation officer testified that Tom then got out of the truck and began swearing and yelling at him telling him to get off the land because he had no jurisdiction.

The conservation officer asked Tom to identify himself but he refused.

Kneller testified that Bonneau then started yelling the same things and Tom's daughter got out of the truck and started recording the incident on her cell phone.

Due to safety concerns, the conservation officer decided to leave and called the RCMP.

The truck was later stopped by the RCMP and Tom was handcuffed until he identified himself.

According to the decision, Tom's version of events differs quite dramatically from the conservation officers.

Tom testified he did not get out of the truck because he had a bad knee and was unable to handle the slippery road. He said Kneller didn't ask him his name or interact with him in any way.

Tom didn't dispute that he was hunting at night and said the law allowed him to hunt with a light, and the conservation officer had no jurisdiction unless he had permission from the Okanagan Indian Band Chief to come onto the land.

"Mr. Tom did not shy away from expressing his perspective, repeatedly and forcefully, at trial," Judge Guild said in the decision. "Generally, when testifying, ... Mr. Tom was very aggressive and argumentative."

Judge Guild said that Tom and all the witnesses "very firmly believed" the conservation officer was trespassing and had no right to be on the reserve land, seize the rifle, or investigate the possible offences.

"That perspective remained throughout trial, despite (his lawyer) specifically stating that the lawfulness of the conservation officer’s presence on the land and right to investigate were admitted, were not in issue, and that Mr. Kneller had the lawful right to do those things," the Judge said. "I conclude all of the defence witnesses, especially Mr. Tom, remain adamant they are right, and will forcefully uphold their viewpoint when asserting what they believe are their rights."

The judge found Tom changed his testimony several times, as did the other witnesses.

While Tom had said he stayed in the truck because he had a bad knee and was not stable, he also admitted to walking home in the dark through muddy fields.

Ultimately, the judge picked holes in Tom's evidence and found him guilty of obstructing the conservation officer while he was trying to execute his duties.

Tom will be sentenced at a later date.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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