British Columbia

Undercover sting nabs deer-meat delinquents on Vancouver Island

A covert operation by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service led to thousands of dollars in fines for three men including two who were busted trying to buy illegal venison.

Covert operation by B.C. Conservation Officer Service led to thousands of dollars in fines for 3 men

Selling hunted wildlife meat is illegal in B.C. A sting operation by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service netted fines for three men who pleaded guilty to trafficking in wildlife meat. (Gert Hilbink/Shutterstock)

Poachers in British Columbia will pay a deer price for their actions.

That's what some are saying after court documents released this month detailed an undercover sting operation that led to fines for three Vancouver Island men for buying illegal deer meat and poaching.

Valentin Alatiit, 74, was ordered to pay more than $5,500 after he was nabbed trying to buy illegal venison worth $145, according to the documents.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of trafficking in wildlife meat and was sentenced in September.

"Illegal commercial harvests for sale could have a significant impact on populations if left unchecked," said Det. Insp. Darcy MacPhee with the B.C. Conservation Officer Service's Special Investigation Unit.

"We're fortunate, from our point of view, that the courts do take a dim view and do take this seriously."

Enforcement of poaching laws usually comes through inspections, tips from the public, patrols and checkpoints, MacPhee said.

Covert operations are a "last resort," he explained, but are sometimes used to crack down on illegal guides and traffickers.

Sentencing occurred at the Duncan Law Courts. (Google Streetview)

Approached in parking lot

According to court documents, Alatiit approached a retired RCMP officer "of First Nations heritage" in a Duncan, B.C., Walmart parking lot in 2014. Alatiit asked him about buying wild meat and gave him his phone number.

Buying or selling wildlife meat in B.C. is illegal and the retired cop reported him to conservation officers. Those officers called Alatiit and twice sold him wild meat.

"It was also confirmed with Mr. Alatiit that he understood that he was engaged in illegal activity of obtaining the wildlife meat," Justice Parker MacCarthy wrote.

Alatiit got another man involved in the purchases, Elmer Baldonaza, 47, the documents showed. He pleaded guilty to two counts of trafficking wildlife, as well.

MacPhee said the investigation then led to Samuel George, 58, who was selling poached meat he hunted himself.

George pleaded guilty to a single charge of trafficking wildlife and was fined $2,500 fine and sentenced to two years of probation, Crown Counsel John Blackman said.

A representative from a hunting group says he has heard of growing interest in game meat from foodies. (CBC)

Foodie interest in game meat

Deer are not endangered in B.C. but are protected by bag limits, hunting season restrictions and geographic limits, MacPhee said.

Alatiit and Baldonaza were merely buyers of the meat but MacPhee said the fines were warranted.

"If there's people out there that's willing to buy [illegal meat]… then there will always be people that will go out and harvest these animals," he said.

Douglas Bancroft, vice-president of the Victoria Fish and Game Protective Association, said he has heard anecdotally that a growing number of "foodies" are interested in buying game meat.

"Everybody I am aware of is very fussy about staying inside the … various regulations," Bancroft said. "The potential severity of the fines far outweighs anything to be gained from messing about with it."

Alatiit and Baldonaza paid close to the minimum fines for their offences. The court noted they had clean records, were well regarded by their communities and accepted responsibility for their involvement.

CBC was unable to reach Alatiit or George for comment. Baldonaza declined to comment.

About the Author

Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is a journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at liam.britten@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten.