Province tears up tickets after fish seized from Alberta Métis camp
'I wanted to go to court ... 40 or 50 years ago we never needed a piece of paper to go hunting or fishing'
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.
- Despite apology, Métis leader still stuck with ticket for illegal fishing
- Province apologizes after wildlife officers seize fish from northern Alberta Métis camp
"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.
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.
Delivered a load of fish to the Metis community of Conklin this morning. Thanks for your welcome and good discussion. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ableg?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ableg</a> <a href="https://t.co/Z1NUUktaRT">pic.twitter.com/Z1NUUktaRT</a>—@FeehanRichard
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.
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."