Arctic Kingdom Inc. has been found guilty of four charges related to running a tour near wildlife without a licence.
The four counts relate to four consecutive days in March 2017, when the Nunavut outfitter ran private tours out of a camp it had set up around 30 kilometres outside of Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut. Arctic Kingdom advertised offering photo tours of polar bears and icebergs.
Section 117(2) of Nunavut's Wildlife Act prohibits running a commercial activity involving wildlife without a licence from the government of Nunavut.
Justice Paul Rouleau delivered his decision by telephone in the Nunavut Court of Justice on Monday — he then distributed his 18-page written decision with his reasons to the parties involved.
The Crown, William Lu, called two witnesses during the trial in Qikiqtarjuaq, both of whom were with Nunavut's Department of Environment.
Joseph Guay was a conservation officer based in the community, who was informed of the camp by local hunters and conducted an investigation.
He testified he found the outfitter had no licence and that the local hunters and trappers organization (HTO) did not approve of the camp's location, which they said interfered with polar bear family groups emerging from a nearby fjord.
Arctic Kingdom had written to the Nattivak HTO that February requesting permission for the camp and enclosed a brochure for a "Spring Polar Bears & Icebergs of Baffin (Photo Safari)." In March, the HTO wrote back rejecting the planned activities.
"Inuit are considered co-managers of wildlife. As such, they are involved and have a say in issues concerning wildlife in their area," Rouleau's decision reads.
The Wildlife Act's regulations require the submission of an activity outline — especially in cases where the HTO has reservations — after which the HTO has 40 days to provide comments.
After prompting from the environment department, Arctic Kingdom did file a request for a licence — three days before the offences. This was not enough time to fulfil the 40-day requirement.
While investigating, Guay visited the camp, which was around 10 tents, including a kitchen tent surrounded by bear fencing. He witnessed Arctic Kingdom's clients taking part in a Parks Canada orientation session and then leaving from the Qikiqtarjuaq airport.
Arctic Kingdom's defence
Arctic Kingdom has been running private tours in Nunavut for two decades. It was represented by Iqaluit-based lawyer Anne Crawford.
She argued that Lu, when questioning Officer Guay, did not always confirm the information gathered from Arctic Kingdom employees about the activities was given voluntarily by the employees — he only did so some of the time.
Rouleau found the information could be used in court despite the lack of confirmation in every instance, and that voluntarily-given information was enough to convict the outfitter.
Crawford also argued that paper evidence and testimony referred to Arctic Kingdom, Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions and Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions Inc., so the Crown had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Arctic Kingdom Inc. committed the offences.
Justice Rouleau concluded Arctic Kingdom Inc. was responsible because the employees involved responded to correspondence for Arctic Kingdom Inc.
Crawford said Arctic Kingdom had also contracted services from another outfitter, but the judge decided there was no doubt which business was in charge of the operation and therefore responsible.
And finally, Rouleau noted Arctic Kingdom was familiar with the licensing process because it had a licence in 2016 for the months of July to December — and dismissed Crawford's argument the 2016 licence was still valid.
Rouleau found that other instances in which the government waived the requirement for licences before the Act's regulations were in place, or allowed licences to apply retroactively, were not relevant to the offences before him in this case.
Before the trial, Arctic Kingdom had mounted a constitutional challenge to the Wildlife Act. That challenge failed when Rouleau found the act did not infringe on the rights of Inuit to interact with wildlife in non-commercial settings.
This case is scheduled for sentencing on Thursday morning.