Quebec Innu hunters busted for allegedly killing caribou in Labrador
Three Innu hunters from Quebec are accused of killing four caribou from an endangered herd in Labrador, after a confrontation between the hunters and provincial wildlife officers earlier this month.
In a statement, the province's Department of Justice said on Oct. 15, fish and wildlife enforcement officers patrolled the Birchy Lakes area by helicopter and encountered the men, along with the heads and body parts of what appeared to be four caribou.
One of the men was in a boat at the time and refused to come ashore.
"Is there a confrontation? Of course there's a confrontation. And of course it's dangerous for the officials and for the Innu too," said the Pakua Shipi Innu band's lawyer, François Lévesque, who did not dispute the province's version of events.
"All these people, they got firearms, they do what they consider right for them," said Lévesque.
"And on the other side, you have officers with firearms too, and they consider what the Innu do as illegal."
Lévesque said the men do not consider their actions to be illegal.
"That land is their home," he said.
"They consider caribou hunting as part of their lifestyle of living on the land."
Dwindling caribou numbers in Labrador prompted the province to impose bands on some herds.
The area the men were hunting in forms part of the range of the Mealy Mountains woodland caribou.
Lévesque said the hunters are being persecuted for simply following their traditions.
"To live the Innu lifestyle, to hunt, to travel across the rivers, that was OK. Now, it's illegal. What would you do? Are we supposed to sit down and watch?" he said.
"We do what we have to do."
'Paramount' need to conserve
The province refused an interview on the hunt.
But in a written statement to the CBC, the province said "the need for conservation is paramount and we continue to enforce a zero harvest in order to protect it for all people — aboriginal and non-aboriginal — into the future."
The province also asked "that everyone respect this ban and remember our ultimate goal here is to sustain the herd."
Officers arrested two of the hunters on site, as well as seizing their firearms and ammunition.
All three men are now under investigation for violations of the Wildlife Act and the Endangered Species Act.
With files from Bailey White