GORE BAY— Last Thursday, November 12 saw yet another full house at Gore Bay provincial court with 15 farmers from across Manitoulin there in a show of support for Green Bay farmer Paul Skippen and his ongoing court case.
In June, Mr. Skippen was charged with unlawfully hunting a migratory bird outside the open season, failing to immediately make every reasonable effort to retrieve a migratory bird, unlawfully discharging a firearm in the travelled portion of a right of way for public vehicular traffic and knowingly making a false statement to a conservation officer.
Mr. Skippen has decided to challenge these charges and to make his battle in court against the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) a battle cry for farmers. Mr. Skippen feels he represents all the farmers who deal with provincially and federally protected animals (deer, sandhill cranes and Canada geese) that are destroying crops. He asked fellow Green Bay farmer Ed Ferguson to represent him in court.
At court on Thursday, Dan Williams, counsel for the MNRF, explained to Justice Darlene Hayden that he had received added disclosure from the Crown, which he had passed on to Mr. Ferguson, who was acting as Mr. Skippen’s representative in court.
“I think Mr. Ferguson had a sense that he was going to trial today, which is certainly not the case,” Mr. Williams said to Justice Hayden, noting that due to the amount of time the inevitable trial will likely take, possibly as much as half a day, it will require a pre-trial, with Justice Hayden agreeing. (The pre-trial is a chance for Mr. Williams, Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Skippen to meet with the judge to go over all of the evidence before setting a trial date.)
Mr. Williams noted that Justice Kittler will oversee the pre-trial, as he will be speaking to another MNRF matter and suggesting the date of February 10, 2016.
Mr. Ferguson was then given the floor. “As far as Mr. Skippen is concerned, we’re ready to go,” he addressed Justice Hayden.
“Farmers can’t be taking days off,” Mr. Ferguson told the court. “This is the third time we’ve had to take time off to come here. I’m not available in February. I will be on vacation.”
He then asked if the pre-trial date could be set sooner, or done through teleconference. Justice Hayden explained that it could be done through teleconference, but the rest of the parties would still need to be in the courtroom.
In reference to Mr. Ferguson’s annoyance at not having the pre-trial sooner, Justice Hayden reminded the court that she had asked for a pre-trial date to be set on September 3. “Both sides have caused the delay,” she said. “If trial will take more than two hours, we need a pre-trial. “If February 10 doesn’t work, then we’ll go back to the drawing board.”
Mr. Williams said he would “take that matter on” with Justice Hayden setting the date of December 3 for confirmation of a pre-trial date.
Mr. Williams then noted that he had sent an email to Mr. Ferguson’s personal account. He said that at the bottom of this email it says that it cannot be copied, shared or distributed. “It is my understanding that this email showed up on Facebook,” he added, giving a copy of the email in question to Justice Hayden.
“I suggest that if Mr. Skippen wants to make a mockery of the matter, that’s up to him, but it’s not to be shared without my permission,” Mr. Williams said.
Mr. Ferguson admitted that the email did come from Mr. Williams to his wife’s account and that she then forwarded the email on to her husband’s account, as well as to Mr. Skippen’s, as the email was intended for them. He then noted that the “MNR has an issue with farmers.”
“The whole court process is accessible to the public, but communication between counsel is really confidential—it’s called trial case management,” Justice Hayden explained. “The whole process relies on this. Correspondence should be kept private until the court process. The court needs to make the decisions based on evidence presented to it. For the integrity of the process, keep communication with the prosecutor private for now,” she asked of Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Skippen.
Mr. Ferguson agreed that he would encourage Mr. Skippen to do so.