Nfld. & Labrador

Pakua Shipi Innu accused of illegal caribou hunting launch constitutional challenge

Three men accused of illegally hunting caribou in southern Labrador are launching a constitutional challenge, citing aboriginal rights to hunt on traditional grounds.

Lawyer contends N.L. doesn't have authority to impose hunting ban

A file photo shows Pakua Shipi hunters on a caribou hunt. (Submitted by the Pakua Shipi Innu band council)

Three men accused of illegally hunting caribou in southern Labrador are launching a constitutional challenge, citing aboriginal rights to hunt on traditional grounds.

Roger Mark, Jacques Mark, and Jean Phillipe Vollant are all members of the Pakua Shipi Innu Band accused of hunting in 2015 in the Birchy Lakes area of Labrador, where a caribou hunting ban has been in place since 2013.

"We challenge the law because of lack of consultation, of non-recognition of Innu rights," said lawyer François Lévesque, who represents the three accused.

Pakua Shipi is on the Lower North Shore of Quebec, near St. Augustine. Lévesque says the border between the two provinces is not one his clients recognize.

François Lévesque has been the lawyer for the Pakua Shipi Innu for about five years. (Submitted)

"When you make laws, you have to make sure you have the power to make laws. So in our case, we challenge the border, we challenge the right of Newfoundland and Labrador to make that kind of [law]," he said.

"Hunting, gathering and fishing … belongs to the Innu, who have been there for a million years."

Members of the Pakua Shipi Band have flouted the ban since it came into place, arguing that the province has no authority to make laws that interfere with traditional Innu hunting practices.

In this case, Lévesque says his clients maintain their innocence — but also their right to hunt.

"When it comes to the Innu rights to hunt and fish, that's the federal government that has to make the laws," Lévesque said.

Similar case before the court 

The case has similarities to another working its way through provincial court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Ten men from Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation are accused of illegally hunting caribou in charges dating back to 2013.

The accused in that case are also mounting a constitutional challenge, but Lévesque said the outcome of one case is not necessarily an indication of how the other will go.

The provincial government brought in a ban on hunting caribou in Labrador back in 2013, after steep population declines. (CBC)

"The result may vary, one will not necessarily bend another," Lévesque said, pointing to the Labrador Innu's ongoing land claim negotiations with the federal government. Lévesque said the Pakua Shipi have no such agreement with Ottawa about land claims.

In an email, a spokesperson for the department of justice said the Office of Public Prosecutions had received notice of the constitutional challenge.

The case is back in provincial court June 13.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bailey White

CBC News

Bailey White is a senior producer based in St. John's, N.L.

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