Night hunting confession forged, allege Indigenous groups
Two Indigenous groups say tensions over hunting continue to rise in Manitoba where they are driven in part by racially charged comments from Premier Brian Pallister.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Manitoba Metis Federation pointed Thursday to the recent acquittal of two Métis hunters on charges of illegal night hunting.
The case fell through after the Crown withdrew an apparently forged confession, said Métis president David Chartrand, who linked it to recent tough-talk from Pallister on Indigenous hunting.
Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said conservation officers may be cutting corners after Pallister's comments in recent months, including a speech in January in which he said Indigenous night hunting was becoming a "race war."
"If it's acceptable for the premier to talk about race wars or to speak in derogatory terms about Indigenous hunters ... it can also ... embolden those people in public office — public officials — who are like-minded. And they can act on those things."
One of the acquitted men, Mitchel LeStrat, 30, said he was subjected to slurs in his hometown of Lundar, 100 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, after he was charged in November 2015.
"Our names were run through the dirt." he said Thursday. "I was called a dirty Métis in the town of Lundar, where I never thought there was such racism."
LeStrat said he and a friend, Jordan Thorsteinson, 21, were stopped by conservation officers while driving down a dirt road. The men were not hunting, LeStrat said.
Their lawyer, Jessica Sanders, said the Crown produced a signed statement in which Thorsteinson appeared to confess to illegally hunting at night with spotlights. His friend never signed such a document, Sanders said, and a handwriting expert from Texas examined the document and determined the signature was not Thorsteinson's.
Two days before the men were to stand trial last month, the Crown withdrew the document and the men were acquitted, Sanders said.
Chartrand called on the Manitoba government to investigate and to charge anyone who might have forged a signature.
Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said she hadn't heard of the forgery accusation until Thursday. She was noncommittal on launching a investigation because there might be legal proceedings brought by the federation.
"We want to be fair with regard to the judicial process or the court process and see what the next steps are that they are going to take."
Cox also said the Progressive Conservative government, elected just over a year ago, has been working with Indigenous groups on hunting rights.
"I've actually had two meetings that I've attended with elders ... and they were very, very good discussions. I have told them directly that we are going to work together with them to address safety in Manitoba and night-hunting issues and things like that."
Indigenous hunters have a right to hunt at night, but the provincial government has authority to set safety restrictions such as barring hunting on private land.
Pallister has said that night hunting is dangerous because bullets can travel far beyond the area visible to hunters.