Court determines that Green Bay farmer is guilty of illegal shooting

Man firm that he was defending crops from goose damage and vows to appeal

GORE BAY—Green Bay farmer Paul Skippen was found guilty on two of the three charges brought against him from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) for shooting a Canada goose outside of the hunting season, without a permit and from a roadway.

Mr. Skippen was charged with the unlawful shooting of a Canada goose outside of the hunting period under the Migratory Birds Convention 1994; 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 had also been charged with failing to immediately make every effort to retrieve a migratory bird, but those charges were previously dropped.

Justice Darlene Hayden, who was presiding over the case, took her time explaining her verdicts last Thursday at Provincial Offences Act Court in Gore Bay. Justice Hayden noted that she wished that the court days were closer and that the case could have been resolved sooner.

Justice Hayden gave her verdict first on the charge of Mr. Skippen unlawfully shooting a Canada goose outside of the hunting period.

“Mr. Skippen admitted to shooting the goose and to not obtaining a permit until several days after,” said Justice Hayden. “Mr. (Rupert) Grigull (one of the two witnesses to the incident) gave credible evidence that Mr. Skippen shot the goose.”

She said that, based on Mr. Skippen’s own admission and the evidence, she found Mr. Skippen guilty on the charge of shooting the goose.

As for the charge of ‘knowingly making a false statement to a conservation officer (CO),’ Justice Hayden found Mr. Skippen not guilty, stating that the prosecution didn’t prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

She said that she didn’t feel that Mr. Skippen knowingly made a false statement, noting that during the trial he demonstrated that “he gets excited easily and doesn’t pay attention to detail or what he is saying.”

“He doesn’t seem to pay attention to the question before he answers it,” she added. “When he said ‘I lied’ it appeared that he was actually just clarifying what he had said.”

She also said that during the trial he appeared to get confused when he got upset and that the prosecution didn’t prove that Mr. Skippen deliberately made a false statement to the CO.

For the final charge, unlawfully disarming a firearm in the travelled portion of a right of way for public vehicular traffic, Justice Hayden told the court that the reason she found Mr. Skippen not guilty of the charge, ‘knowingly giving a false statement to a CO officer,’ was the same reason why she had to find Mr. Skippen guilty of shooting the firearm.

“The evidence (his testimony) Mr. Skippen gave wasn’t credible,” Justice Hayden said. “He changed his testimony throughout the case, didn’t answer questions directly and at some points would launch into an explanation that seems to go around the question. He also seemed to get confused easily. Mr. Skippen’s evidence also contradicted from the evidence given by two eye witnesses.”

She said she found Mr. Grigull’s and Elizabeth Hurcun’s (who testified to witnessing the incident with Mr. Grigull) evidence to be credible.

The court also accepted testimony and evidence presented by CO Wood, such as the spent shotgun casing found by CO Wood near where the witnesses said the accused had shot the goose.

“Given the totality of the evidence, the prosecution has proven that Mr. Skippen unlawfully discharged a firearm in the travelled portion of a right of way for public vehicular traffic and the court finds Mr. Skippen guilty,” said Justice Hayden.

MNRF prosecutor Dan Williams recommended the court fine Mr. Skippen $1,000 for the charge of discharging the firearm and that his hunting licence be suspended for one year and $600 for shooting the goose, submitting examples of similar charges being laid across the province in similar cases.

Mr. Williams also attempted to submit to the court evidence that Mr. Skippen had been convicted in 1992 for shooting migratory birds without a licence and that he had been charged $300 and his licence had been suspended for a year.

Mr. Skippen’s attorney Brad Allison objected to the evidence, saying it was the first time he had heard of this and that it was not credible as it was from the MNRF’s own records.

Justice Hayden would not accept the evidence as she agreed that it wasn’t from an objective source.

The court took a brief intermission as Justice Hayden decided on the fine.

During the break, Mr. Grigull and Ed Ferguson, a friend of Mr. Skippen and fellow Green Bay farmer, got into a heated argument outside the court. The court officers split the pair up, with Mr. Ferguson apologizing, saying that he was provoked.

When court resumed, Justice Hayden announced the fines. She fined Mr. Skippen $1,250 plus costs for the firearm charge and $300 plus costs for the goose shooting. She did not suspend Mr. Skippen’s hunting licence for a year, but did order that the firearm that the MNRF seized from Mr. Skippen not be returned.

“It’s the wrong gun,” laughed Mr. Skippen following the hearing. “They took the wrong gun—it’s an old 870, but whatever. We are appealing the conviction for shooting the firearm. I did not shoot it from the road. I know I shot it off the paved portion of the road—as for shooting the goose, yeah, I admitted it. When you shoot something you step towards what you’re shooting—I was off the paved road and stepped forward away from the road. I’m also still thinking that this went to the wrong court—the case should have been tried in a federal court.”

Mr. Ferguson agreed with Mr. Skippen, noting that he also felt the case should have been tried in federal court.

“The conviction for firing from the travelled portion of the road has so many contradictions and so few facts that it boils down to a ‘he said-she said’ scenario,” Mr. Ferguson told The Expositor. “This should be overturned on appeal. The seized weapon is not the one used, easily proven by ballistics testing. I have been approached by government officials for suggestions as to how farmers can protect their property from these federally protected birds, and I hope that a new amendment will put an end to this harassment of food producers. This lengthy travesty has caused a major rift between the farming community and the employees of the MNRF.”

Mr. Skippen said he would be meeting with Mr. Allison in the near future to discuss filing an appeal.