Plane seized in suspected caribou hunt

The provincial government has grounded a plane in Labrador that's alleged to have been involved in illegal caribou hunting in the area.
Although the N.L. government banned hunting all caribou for five years, the Innu Nation told CBC they would hunt 150 male caribou for each community between now and April 2013. (Colleen Connors / CBC)

The provincial government has grounded a small plane in Labrador that may have been involved in illegal caribou hunting in the area.

In a statement released Friday, Justice Minister Darin King confirmed that "a plane has been temporarily seized as part of an investigation into alleged illegal hunting activity in Labrador."

"While no charges have been laid at this point, the investigation is continuing."

Just before sundown on Thursday the plane set down on the ice near Sheshatshiu.

Innu elder Caroline Andrew, who lives across the street from where the plane landed, said a large crowd was on hand.

"I saw people parking on the road ... there were a lot," Andrew told CBC News.

"I heard someone say there were nine [caribou off-loaded]," said Andrew.

Andrew said she also saw the RCMP on the scene, as well as a helicopter. 

Hunt banned in January

In January, the provincial government announced a ban on hunting caribou with the George River herd in Labrador for five years.

But the Innu Nation told CBC that hunters would still take 150 male caribou for each community between now and April.

Innu Nation Grand Chief Prote Poker said the nine animals that were brought to Sheshatshui were among 30 caribou that were killed. He also confirmed they were from the George River herd.

And Poker said they will continue to hunt them.

"We told the government that we won't comply with the ban of caribou [hunting]," he said. "We've been very cautious about the way we hunt caribou. We've been very conservative on how many caribou we kill."

Poker said the Innu usually take about 1,000 caribou each year, but they have cut that number to 150 this year.

Andrew agrees with the hunt.

"If someone brings me some, I'm going to take it because I need it," she said.

Sources said the animals came from Shipiskan Lake, about 100 kilometres north of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Plane owner seeks legal advice

The plane that landed on Sheshatshiu beach is part of Big Land Aviation Services, which is owned by Clarence Froude and New Brunswick RCMP officer Albert Michelin.

Michelin said the business is based out of 5 Wing Goose Bay in Labrador.

He said he's confused as to why his plane was seized.

"After all this turmoil that's going on, not once has the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, not once have the RCMP that's located in the district of Labrador. not once has anyone taken the time to even try to contact me, to involve me into what's going on here," he said.

Michelin also said he doesn't understand why his competitor's helicopters, which the Innu hired to locate the caribou, weren't also seized.

"I've been in the RCMP for 23 years plus, and what's going on here is completely wrong. It's completely wrong in the way it's being approached."

Michelin said he will be seeking legal advice in the matter.

"We will be going after the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Government of Canada to recover our money for the losses that we're accruing right now."