BY MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI • Eleven years ago, federal investigators raided a fish processing plant on the eastern tip of Newfoundland and seized more than 25,000 seal pelts, including 571 slabs of fur hauled ashore by a seasoned fisherman named Wally Shiner. All the pelts were “bluebacks”—young hooded seals that are supposed to be off limits to hunters. The feds were certain they had a slam-dunk case; when charges were laid against dozens of local sealers, most agreed to plead guilty in exchange for leniency.
But not Shiner. He fought the allegations, arguing that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans simply sat back and watched while he and the others clubbed away during the annual hunt of 1996. In fact, Shiner claimed that DFO monitors even “tipped off” the hunters, steering them toward ice floes loaded with the most bluebacks. “That’s where the money is,” said one Fisheries official.
The feds refused to lose. When a lower court judge sided with Shiner, prosecutors appealed. When the appeals court upheld the ruling, the Crown appealed yet again. Last month the government finally won. Newfoundland’s Supreme Court found Shiner guilty, ruling that just because DFO did not enforce the no-blueback rule before 1996, the law still existed and had to be obeyed.
“I really feel outraged on behalf of many, many Newfoundlanders,” says Averill Baker, Shiner’s lawyer. “It is the criminalization of the Newfoundland sealer.” She is pretty sure she knows why the feds refused to give up quietly: “They are afraid of the animal rights groups. They bend over backwards for them. They are a bunch of sissies.” (Ottawa, of course, insists the Crown was driven by law, not politics.) Baker plans to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. But even if her client wins, he won’t get his 571 pelts back. They were locked in storage for so long that they became green and mouldy. Five years ago, authorities tossed them in the trash. M
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