New Brunswick

Department of Natural Resources has low conviction rate for violators

A CBC investigation has learned that the Department of Natural Resources has a 14 per cent conviction rate over the last five years when dealing with major violations of the Fish and Wildlife Act.

There has never been an internal audit or report done on the effectiveness of departmental enforcement

Shawn Farrell is assistant conservation supervisor with the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources. (CBC)

The Department of Natural Resources has a 14 per cent conviction rate over the last five years when dealing with major violations of the Fish and Wildlife Act, a CBC News investigation has found.

Almost half of those violations were dropped and their investigations never completed, qualifying them as "not proceeded" within the department.

CBC News has also learned that there has never been an internal audit or report done on the effectiveness of the department's enforcement.

"Obviously we want to protect our resources," said Shawn Farrell, assistant conservation supervisor.

"We want to have resources for our future generations."

Charlie LeBlanc, with the New Brunswick Wildlife Federation, says they will bring the issue up with government. (CBC)
Farrell said the department has 82 officers working throughout the province.

"Right now we are just in the state that we are in and this is what we have and this is what we have to work with," he said.

In the time period between Jan. 1, 2011 and Oct. 1, 2015 there were 166 convictions out of 1,170 cases.

Almost half didn't proceed

Almost 48 per cent of major violations qualified as "not proceeded" meaning the violation did not proceed through the court system.

According to a Right to Information request, investigations into 560 major violations out of 1,170 were "determined internally or by the Crown prosecutor that the elements of the offence necessary for a successful prosecution did not exist or the Crown prosecutor determined it was not in the public interest or was dealt with through Alternative Measures Program."

Warnings were solutions to seven per cent of the major violations and 13 per cent of them were withdrawn which included plea bargains, or the cases were diverted to a separate agency such as DFO or RCMP.

"It's like having a smoke detector with no batteries," said Lois Corbett of the New Brunswick Conservation Council. (CBC)
Cases that were still being investigated made up around 17 per cent of cases in the last five years.

Major violations under the New Brunswick Fish and Wildlife Act include hunting out of season, the illegal possession of animal parts and carcasses, executing illegal hunting practices and illegally killing animals such as deer, moose and bear.

The Department of Natural resources qualifies any infraction of the Fish and Wildlife Act it encounters as a violation and categorizes it as such.

Rate 'unacceptable'

Wildlife and conservation groups say that a conviction rate of 14 per cent is unacceptable.

"This is sad and it's something we'll be bringing up with the minister," said Charlie LeBlanc, president of the New Brunswick Wildlife Federation.

"People are taking advantage of our resources and our wildlife. There are quite a few species that are in decline in our province and we need to make sure that what's there, what's left is protected," he said.

Lois Corbett, the executive director of the Conservation Council, said the existing system is similar to having a "smoke detector with no batteries."

"It's lipstick and rouge," Corbett said.

"It's laws in the books that don't have any implications. Why should people follow the rules if they don't have consequences?"

CBC requested to speak with a Crown prosecutor about the conviction rates at the department. No one was made available after a week of requests.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story attributed comments to Carol Estey that were in fact made by Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.
    Dec 01, 2015 9:45 AM AT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.

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