Legal opinion says provincial gambling officials erred in okaying wolf-kill contest

Vancouver Sun
December 17, 2012

B.C. gambling officials erred when they concluded a private wolf-kill contest underway this winter in the northeast Peace region does not require a permit, a legal opinion obtained by an environmental group asserts.

©Ian McAllister PACIFIC WILD

West Coast Environmental Law says in an opinion for Pacific Wild that it believes the contest is “in violation of the gaming provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada” and therefore “would require a gaming event licence under the Gaming Control Act to be legal.”

Rich Coleman, B.C. minister in charge of gambling, would only say: “We just received the letter and are reviewing it.”

The Vancouver Sun reported last month that Peace-area hunters who enter the contest and kill the biggest wolves stand to receive $250 to $1,000 and up — plus a booby prize of $150 for the smallest wolf.

The gambling branch said in response it had “determined that since entrants must present a wolf to be eligible to win a prize, the event is skill-based and does not require a licence.”

That position is challenged by Andrew Gage, staff lawyer for West Coast Environmental Law, who says in a letter to Barry Henetiuk, special constable with the gambling branch, that the contest is not entirely skill-based.

According to a copy of the contest poster obtained by The Sun, hunters pay $50 to enter, with winners receiving 10 to 40 per cent of the entry prize pool in addition to the guaranteed prizes of $150 to $1,000. Participants also stand to win draws for prizes such as a rifle, free taxidermy work, and $200 gift certificate at a hunting shop.

“Games in which winners gain more as a result of the contributions of other contestants, whether games of chance or skill, are clearly prohibited under Section 206 of the Criminal Code, and subject to regulation by the province....” he writes.

Gage concluded it is also problematic that “certain goods and services may be distributed on the basis of a draw (with a chance to win based on each wolf entered into the contest)” and as such “would appear to be a lottery scheme.”

Dave Middleton, who is employed in the oilpatch and is one of the contest organizers, said in an interview he consulted the provincial gambling branch website and spoke with a gaming official and as far as he’s concerned “what we’re doing is 100-per-cent legal.”

He estimated 30 to 35 hunters have already signed up for the hunt, and suspects more to do so in response to all the publicity — which is playing out as a clash of urban versus rural values. No wolf carcasses have been brought in yet.

“It’s no big deal,” Middleton said of the contest. “It’s just a sport for us.”

Fort St. John sponsors of the contest include: North Peace Rod and Gun Club; realtor Rich Petersen, a former B.C. Wildlife Federation director; Raven Oilfield Rentals; Backcountry, a fishing and hunting store; T & C Taxidermy; and Mr. Green-Up Envirotech Ltd., which offers hydroseeding services. The contest continues through March 31, with up to three wolves per hunter.

Accomplished wildlife photographer John Marriott, who grew up in Salmon Arm but lives in Canmore, Alta., has urged a tourism boycott of the Alaska Highway in 2013.

News of the contest coincided with provincial release of a draft wolf management plan.

Pacific Wild’s Ian McAllister, an environmentalist who has followed wolf packs for 20 years on the B.C. coast and written two books on them, said the draft plan amounts to “open season” on the wolf and envisions the slaughter of individuals and entire packs through trapping, liberalized hunting and, in some cases, use of aircraft.

The B.C. Wildlife Federation and Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. did not immediately respond to The Sun’s request for their position on the draft plan.

Vivian Thomas, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, said the ministry received about 2,500 responses over a three-week consultation period.

Of those:

• 1,614 respondents opposed the draft plan, 40 per cent of those submitting form or auto-generated letters.

• 558 supported the plan.

• 111 were unclear, or held mixed views based on different aspects of the plan.

• 292 were not relevant to the consultation.

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All Photography © Ian McAllister unless otherwise noted.
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