Province says Manitoba's night-hunting ban 'strikes a balance' with exemptions for Indigenous hunters
Southern Chiefs' Organization 'dismayed' by 'complete failure to accommodate calls for negotiations'
The Manitoba government says proposed legislation that would curtail the practice of hunting at night with a spotlight addresses public safety concerns, but some Indigenous groups say the bill infringes on their constitutional rights.
The bill, officially introduced Wednesday, would ban the practice in southern Manitoba, except for Indigenous people who are granted a permit. They will only be able to hunt on specified public lands.
The new legislation would establish fines of up to $100,000 and a year in jail for night hunting.
Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires introduced the Wildlife Amendment Act (Safe Hunting and Shared Management) on Wednesday. She said the bill addresses safety concerns of rural residents while respecting constitutional hunting rights of Indigenous people.
"There's never been any dispute that hunting and night hunting in certain cases is a constitutional right for Indigenous hunters, but public safety is certainly factored into that. And we do believe that this bill strikes a balance," she said.
Shared management of wildlife in specific regions would be among Indigenous people, hunters, local officials and the government.
In spotlight hunting, a bright light is shone into the eyes of animals such as moose, elk and deer, causing the prey to stand still and therefore making it easier for them to be killed.
Premier Brian Pallister promised to ban what he called an "inhumane practice" in a speech to party faithful last week and said last year the issue was becoming a race war with some Indigenous hunters.
'Complete failure' to negotiate
Some First Nations leaders — including Grand Chief Jerry Daniels from the Southern Chiefs' Organizations and Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs — have accused the province of not consulting them enough and say they're worried a ban will infringe on their treaty rights.
"They've started to talk. But the conversation isn't complete, and until we have that meaningful discussion and dialogue then no legislation or initiatives could start," said Dumas.
In a statement, Daniels said he is "dismayed" that the province is proceeding, arguing it has not properly consulted First Nations.
"The use of the phrase 'shared management' in the bill is misleading. In substance, the bill merely proposes to create recommendation committees. This is a complete failure to accommodate calls for negotiations with First Nations on a true shared management regime on wildlife hunting."
Others supported the restrictions and the Manitoba Metis Federation voted to ban spotlighting in southern Manitoba last fall.
Squires said the province has consulted with Indigenous elders on the cultural practice of night hunting, and held more than 20 meetings to hear from landowners, agricultural producers and Indigenous people.
The practice has become a controversial issue in parts of Manitoba, where there have been fatalities, property damage and stress on wildlife populations from over-hunting.
'This is the starting point'
Representatives of rural municipalities praised the bill after it was announced in the legislature.
"This makes it easier for the conservation officers. Now, if they see lights out at night, they know it's illegal. They don't have to have a wild goose chase and worry about courts letting people off. And it's for all hunters. It doesn't matter what race or colour you are, it's illegal for everybody now," said Scott Phillips, reeve of the RM of Sifton.
Before the bill can become law, many details still need to be worked out, including which areas of the south will be designated for night hunting.
Brian Kotak, managing director of the Manitoba Wildlife Federation, said the sections of Crown land where night hunting is permitted will have to be quite large, because bullets from high-powered rifles can travel a long distance.
"I would contend there is no place for night hunting that can be safe," Kotak said. "To me, I see this is the starting point. This isn't the end."
First Nations groups could make a constitutional challenge of the law, but Dumas says the door is open for further consultation.
Two men have been killed in recent years in night hunting accidents and livestock and buildings have inadvertently been hit by bullets travelling well beyond the reach of a spotlight.
With files from The Canadian Press and Sean Kavanagh