Written by: Heather Clemenceau, with files from the Short Hills Wildlife Alliance
The parks of Canada are available to all Canadians for their benefit, education and enjoyment, and all parks should be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of current and future generations. However, in about two weeks, the Ministry of Natural Resources will once again host the annual fishing derby at Marineland deer hunting at Short Hills Provincial Park, even though hunting is illegal at all other times. On the proposed dates of November 14, 15, 19, 20, 28, and the 29th, the Ministry will allow the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to break virtually all of the rules posted in the park for a ceremonial hunt.
Animal advocates, conservationists, and residents in area the do not believe that hunting is an appropriate activity for a provincial park. Hunting in the park is incompatible with the conservation goals of maintaining species as risk adjacent to areas such as the Golden Horseshoe, which are intensely developed. The Short Hills area contains some of the most extensive natural areas in the Golden Horseshoe, with the highest percentages of forest cover.
The park is part of an environmentally significant area known as the Fonthill Kame Moraine, home to shrubs and herbaceous species not found in other parts of Canada. The largest forest tracts and wetland areas also provide suitable habitat for breeding stock and locally rare birds, reptiles and amphibians. While the deer themselves are not an endangered species, the MNR seems to want the public at large to believe that the relatively small number of animals surveyed in the park are more damaging than climate change and need to be culled on an annual basis. Under the guise of “conservation,” the Ministry has made many unsubstantiated claims that these culls are beneficial to wildlife survival and the environment, which does not explain why there are rules for using the park under regular daily circumstances. According to the MNR themselves, more than 50 of the animals, plants, and lichens found Niagara parks are considered rare and are either threatened endangered. From a conservation biology standpoint, the wildlife in parks are not protected if it is permissible to shoot them.
One of the main objections to the hunt continues to be safety, since past experience has shown that periodically hunters do not adhere to the boundaries established by the MNR, or the boundaries are ambiguous. Prior meetings with the MNR along with Access-To-Information documents have made it abundantly clear that there has never been a signed or agreed-upon safety protocol. The MNR has not even made a quasi-legitimate attempt to limit the number of hunters in the park at any time. These same ATI requests clearly show that hunters breached the buffer zones outside the hunt area and that members of the public were in the park during the hunt. Despite claims by the MNR that the hunters have never trespassed on private property adjacent to the park, the Ministry have resorted to paying a surveying company more than $3,000 to survey the boundary between private property and the park, another cost to be born by the taxpayers. The most serious accusation of lax security protocols involved unsecured firearms being transported outside of the immediate hunting area; these hunters mingled with hunt observers and crossed the road to their vehicles while their firearms were unencased. Haudenosaunee native Paul Williams, lawyer for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy has stated that:
“…the Haudenosaunee law will only allow a hunt if it’s safe,” something he believes is possible using traditional methods. Williams has said that the 1990 Supreme Court decision (The Sparrow Ruling) upheld these rights and hunting can only be limited by a provincial law that is purely aimed at safety. The Supreme Court Decision in R. v. Sparrow was the first Supreme Court of Canada decision which applied s. 35, of the Constitution Act, which states that “the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.” In the foundational Sparrow ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that First Nations have an Aboriginal right, as defined in the Constitution, to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes and that right takes priority over all others, after conservation and safety. The court also ruled that an aboriginal right is not an absolute right and that governments may encroach upon this if they show a compelling and substantial legislative objective while respecting their fiduciary relationship towards the aboriginal people. The result of this decision is, on the one hand, that the aboriginal peoples have priority when it comes to hunting, fishing, trapping, or gathering for food purposes and on the other hand, that governments can regulate these activities for wildlife conservation or public safety reasons.
Liz White, Director of Animal Alliance of Canada, recently appeared before the Niagara Police Board to address the observations that some hunters carried unencased firearms outside the park in areas within the jurisdiction of the Niagara Regional Police. Liz formally presented this information with the purpose of having any subsequent violations addressed by the NRP, since public safety is ostensibly the goal of all involved with the hunt. What’s surprising is that both the MNR and the Niagara Regional Police, despite photographing and videotaping all aspects of the protest and the hunters entering and departing the Pelham Rd. entrance of the park, no one seemed to notice this security breach, which is in contravention of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.
Read Liz White’s letter to Niagara Regional Police Services Board below:
Public interest measures have to take precedence over hunting rights, since the park is not the only location where hunting for aboriginal ceremonial purposes can take place. Already, a substantial number of hectares of public land in Ontario are available for hunting. Numerous other more remote areas, not boundaried by private property, were proposed and are, by most accounts, suitable alternatives to hunting semi-tame deer in a public park located in an ecologically sensitive area. Parks are seen as peaceful getaways to appreciate and value nature – not places for SUVs, ATVs, and certainly not unsecured firearms.
Call to Action:
Please write to:
Deb Morton, Executive Director
Regional Municipality of Niagara Police Services Board
68 Church Street, St. Catharines, ON L2R 3C6
Office: (905) 688-3911 x5170 / Mobile: 905-329-7814 / Fax: (905) 688-0036