N.W.T. Supreme Court quashes search warrant for Lutsel K'e culture camp

Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood threw out the warrant after Larry Innes, the defence counsel for Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation, applied to have it quashed. Neither of the lawyers for the territorial government objected.

Defence lawyer says First Nation may pursue a civil case next

A birds-eye view of a camp set near the shores of a body of water.
The culture camp at Timber Bay. About 80 Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation members were taking part in a culture camp on the lake when wildlife officers executed what the First Nation describes as an 'invasive' search for illegally hunted caribou. (Submitted by Iris Catholique)

The search warrant that allowed N.W.T. wildlife officers to collect caribou samples from a Łutsel K'e culture camp has been quashed in court.

Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood threw out the warrant Monday morning after Larry Innes, the defence counsel for Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation, applied to have it quashed. Neither of the lawyers for the territorial government, Roger Shepard and Maren Zimmer, objected.

"The fact we are here is in itself a problem. This warrant should have never been issued, this search should have never taken place, so we are cleaning up after the fact," Innes told reporters after the hearing.

Larry Innes, the defence lawyer for Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation, outside the territorial courthouse on Oct. 24, 2022. (Jenna Dulewich/CBC )

'Vindication', says lawyer

The approval for the search warrant to be quashed shows "vindication" for Łutsel K'e's position, Innes said. 

"They did not contest our application and agreed that the warrant was issued without authority," he said of the territorial government.

Last month, the First Nation demanded an apology after a "forceful invasion" that they described as "invasive," "aggressive and disrespectful."

The First Nation said wildlife officers helicoptered into a camp on Artillery Lake on Sept. 13 and spent hours searching family tents and teepees.

Wildlife officers were investigating illegal caribou harvesting within a mobile no-hunting zone that follows the Bathurst caribou herd to protect it from hunters. They had found the carcasses of 10 caribou with significant amounts of meat still on them.

News of the event, which the First Nation described as a "raid," brought condemnation of officers' actions from other organizations. Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine called for the resignation of officials who directed and supported the search, and Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon demanded an apology and investigation.

Two legs of caribou meat lie against mossy ground.
A photo taken by ENR officers within the mobile no-hunting zone shows wasted meat from the carcasses of caribou. (Submitted by Environment and Natural Resources)

CBC North has requested an interview with Environment and Natural Resources Minister Shane Thompson about the court decision.

Shortly after the raid, Thompson issued a statement saying officers had received two independent reports from members of the public about illegal harvesting.

Later in the month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said it would be seeking an external review of officers' actions.

Civil case could be next

The matter took less than 20 minutes in the territorial courtroom as Judge Smallwood listened to the submission. 

Territorial lawyer Shepard said any samples seized during the search would be forfeited and any person wishing to obtain their seized caribou can go through the Wildlife Act. 

Now that the search warrant has been "declared unlawful" in court, Innes said there will be discussions in the community on what happens next, hinting at civil pursuits.

"Next step is looking at civil remedies — effectively a lawsuit against the minister for having invaded the privacy and violating the rights of the people at camp," he said.

If the First Nation was to proceed with the lawsuit, which the defence lawyer said he thinks there are strong grounds for, they could seek damages for breach of individual privacy, sense of security and cultural dignity.


Jenna Dulewich

Current affairs reporter

Jenna Dulewich is a journalist with CBC North. She joined the team in Yellowknife in 2020, after a career in print journalism in southern Alberta. In 2017, she was awarded Excellence in Rural Reporting from News Media Canada for her reporting on the lack of emergency shelters in rural Alberta. In 2020, she won the Emerging Indigenous Journalist Award from the Canadian Association of Journalists.