B.C. hunting guide seeks class-action lawsuit in battle over grizzly hunting ban

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VANCOUVER – The operator of a guide outfitting company has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the British Columbia government over the ban on grizzly bear hunting.

Ron Fleming, owner of Love Bros. & Lee, is seeking compensation for all B.C. guide outfitting businesses allegedly harmed by the hunting ban.

Grizzly bear/Shutterstock

The lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court names the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and the minister, Doug Donaldson, alleging the province inappropriately closed the hunt over public opinion and for political or social reasons.

The statement of claim alleges the government knew its decision would harm the 2,000 people directly employed by 245 guide outfitting businesses, especially those with licences to hunt grizzlies or who lost business when the ban was announced in 2017.

The lawsuit says prior to the ban, fewer than two per cent of the bears in B.C. were hunted each year and the number of grizzlies has been increasing across the province.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and a statement of defence has not been filed.

The provincial government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

First Nations who hunt for treaty rights or for food, social and ceremonial reasons were exempted from the ban.

When it went into effect, Donaldson said it was “no longer socially acceptable to the vast majority of British Columbians to hunt grizzly bears.”

Environment Minister George Heyman also cited research suggesting the economic impact of bear viewing is far greater than hunting, both for revenue and job creation.

The statement of claim says there was no government consultation about shutting down the hunt with guides, resident hunters or First Nations. It asks for financial compensation for damages.

Chad Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government, which represents the Tahltan and Iskut First Nations, says in a news release they support the legal action.

“It has hurt our people culturally, economically and put many of British Columbia’s communities and dwindling ungulate and salmon populations at further risk,” Day says.

The court must first approve the class-action before it would be allowed to continue.

The statement of claim says hunters pay as much as US$25,000 for a guided grizzly bear hunt and when the ban was announced, many outfitters had to cancel bookings already confirmed by deposit for dates into 2021.

The court document says there are approximately 15,000 grizzly bears in British Columbia, about 25 per cent of the entire grizzly population in North America, and that the number of the bears has remained stable for the last two decades.

It says government data shows hunting of up to nine per cent of some grizzly populations is sustainable and that the Ministry of Forests does not have the authority under the Wildlife Act to regulate grizzly hunts “outside the scope of proper wildlife management.”

The statement of claim seeks a court order certifying a class-action lawsuit, requests damages for negligent representation and for “knowingly acting when they had no lawful reason to stop the grizzly bear hunt on wildlife management or First Nations grounds.”