Province tears up tickets after fish seized from Alberta Métis camp

The province won't pursue charges stemming from an incident in September where Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers were filmed seizing smoked fish from a Métis cultural camp south of Fort McMurray.

'I wanted to go to court ... 40 or 50 years ago we never needed a piece of paper to go hunting or fishing'

Métis elder Ernie Desjarlais poses with his ticket for fishing without a licence back in September. (David Thurton/ CBC)

The province won't pursue charges of illegal fishing against two Métis men after Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers  seized smoked fish from a Métis cultural camp south of Fort McMurray in September.

Even though the men won't be charged, one of them regrets not getting his day in court.

"I wanted to go to court," Ernie Desjarlais said. "Because 40 or 50 years ago we never needed a piece of paper to go hunting or fishing."

Desjarlais said Alberta Justice told him in November it would no longer pursue charges against him and a second person who was also ticketed for illegal fishing.

In September, wildlife officers were filmed confiscating smoked fish from a cultural camp in Conklin, Alta., a predominantly Métis community about 150 kilometres south of Fort McMurray.

WARNING: Video contains language some might find offensive. Viewer discretion is advised. Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers seize fish from a Métis camp outside Conklin, just south of Fort McMurray. Video supplied by Roxy Power. 1:56

Alberta Fish and Wildlife alleged the fish were caught without first securing a free licence. The local Métis in Conklin condemned the province's move, saying it was culturally insensitive and infringed upon their rights.

A day later, after a video of the incident went viral on social media, Alberta's Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan apologized. Later, Feehan personally delivered some frozen fish to replace those seized.

But Alberta Justice didn't back down immediately from the charges. Instead, the department said at the time it would conduct a review within 90 days to "ensure Treaty or Métis rights and the merits of the case have been fully considered."

A followup email statement from the department on Tuesday said the charges were dropped after Desjarlais applied and received a free licence.

"Charges did not go ahead in this situation after one of the fishermen completed the Métis Harvester application process and received recognition of their constitutional right to fish for food," spokesperson Dan Laville wrote in a email statement.

Chill among Métis harvesters

Desjarlais confirmed he did apply for a licence shortly after being ticketed. Surprisingly, Desjarlais said, he was approved within three weeks although the process he said usually takes two to three months.

But Desjarlais and his community maintain they should not have to apply for a licence because they believe harvesting is an inherent right.

The fish seizure happened during the annual Conklin Métis Cultural Harvesting Camp. (Roxy Power/ Submitted)

Shirley Tremblay, president of the Métis Local No. 193 in Conklin, said she was also hoping the matter would go to court so the legal system would settle once and for all the question of whether Métis require licences to fish and hunt.

"If it went to court, the community would have clarity and understanding of the harvesting policy," Tremblay said.

"People became a little bit worried if they too went to harvest, they too would be charged. [It] kind of left a chill in the community." 

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About the Author

David Thurton

David Thurton is CBC's mobile journalist in Fort McMurray. He's worked for CBC in the Maritimes & in Canada's Arctic. Email: