Labrador man justified in shooting polar bear, Court of Appeal rules

Free legal clinic offered by Court of Appeal to continue
Free legal clinic offered by Court of Appeal to continue

The highest court in the province, the Court of Appeal in St. John's, has upheld a man's not guilty verdict for shooting a polar bear in Seal Cove, Labrador in March 2012.

The justices said in their decision that they believed Darrell Turnbull feared for the safety of his family and acted appropriately.

According to the decision, Turnbull, his wife and young daughter, had travelled on snowmobile from their home in Charlottetown, Labrador to nearby Seal Cove, and when they arrived, their cabin had been considerably damaged by a bear.

Turnbull made temporary repairs, but the next day, after a bird hunting trip, he found a polar bear again tearing up the cabin. The polar bear left, and then started to come back.

Fearing for the safety of his family — the court decision does not say where they were at the time — Turnbull fired warning shots at the bear who eventually veered off.

He then got on his snowmobile and followed the bear onto the sea ice, where he killed the animal with two shots. He hauled the bear to an island where he left it, not taking any meat or fur.

Turnbull informed wildlife officers of what he had done, and ended up being charged under the Wildlife Act with not having a permit to kill the bear.

Guilty plea rejected

The crown negotiated a plea bargain with Turnbull, who didn't have a lawyer, When the matter went to court in October of 2013, he pleaded guilty but told the judge he had acted in self-defence. The judge said he would not accept the guilty plea, and proceeded to trial.

Nearly three years after the shooting, the trial judge handed down his decision February 20, 2015, and found Turnbull not guilty. He said the wildlife officers didn't have the right to charge Turnbull because polar bears are marine mammals that fall under exclusive federal jurisdiction.

He also ruled that the bear was shot on sea ice outside provincial jurisdiction, and that Turnbull had shown "reasonable diligence."

The Crown appealed the not guilty verdict. Now, Court of Appeal Justices Malcolm Rowe, Gale Welsh, and Charles White have upheld the trial judge's decision.

While they did not agree with the lower court judge's reasoning, they found that Turnbull had acted appropriately saying he feared for the safety of his family, had fired warning shots, and that even though the bear had left, Turnbull could not have known if it would stay away.

The appeal court said in the circumstances, Turnbull acted reasonably and with due diligence to protect his wife and child, but it is unfortunate that meant killing the polar bear.