Fish and Wildlife officers — now Conservation Officers — have found that no clear boundaries exist in law enforcement when it comes to “who does what crime.” Individuals inclined to commit wildlife and fisheries offences are apt to commit other crimes as well. This fact was fundamental in having amendments made to Special Constable appointments held by Fish and Wildlife Officers several years ago. The added reference to violations of the Criminal Code now afford both authority and protection to Conservation Officers encountering criminal activity of any kind while in the execution of their duty. This ability has also acted in support of inter-agency law enforcement co-operation.

An investigation initiated by Barrhead Conservation Officers Watson and McKee in 1997 involving this type of co-operation led to the prosecution of an individual in that area involved in what was referred to by RCMP drug investigators as “ of the largest and most sophisticated hydroponics operations” they had encountered in Alberta to that date.

The investigation began on October 21 of that year, when a report was received at the Barrhead Natural Resources Service (NRS) office alleging illegal hunting may have occurred in that district. The caller reported seeing blood in a field and on a highway and drag marks suggesting that an animal had been shot in the field and loaded onto a vehicle. Rifle season did not open in that particular area until the first of November. Officer Watson arrived at the location at approximately 5:30 p.m. that evening. He found the site as described and also what appeared to be deer hair. While examining the scene for further evidence a black pick-up truck stopped on the highway and the driver got out and approached him. This person, Timothy Obrigewitch, was the owner of the property and had just purchased it in May. In the discussion that followed, Officer Watson explained the purpose of his presence on the property and attempted to determine whether or not Obrigewitch had any knowledge of an animal being killed. He denied any such knowledge. When returning to the vehicles parked on the road, Officer Watson observed what appeared to be blood in the back of the black pick-up. Obrigewitch stated that the blood was from “their moose” and that the animal was killed by a status Indian whom he had helped by delivering the carcass to a butcher shop.

Officer Watson returned with Obrigewitch to the farmyard where he was given verbal consent to conduct a search without warrant of the yard and outbuildings for any evidence of illegal wildlife. Together they walked around the property and looked into some of the out buildings. However, it quickly became apparent to Officer Watson that Obrigewitch did not wish to have him look into a large, recently constructed building referred to as a “pig barn.” While in the vicinity of this building he noticed two, large gasoline-powered electric generators, one partially sunk into the ground. The barn was padlocked and according to Obrigewitch, the only key for the lock was with his father-in-law and he was not present. He volunteered to attempt to reach his father-in-law by phone but after several apparent attempts advised Officer Watson he was unable to do so at the time. Unable to gain voluntary access to the building and not in possession of a warrant to search, Officer Watson left the yard and took up a position a short distance away waiting to intercept any vehicle in the event Obrigewitch attempted to remove the suspected wildlife from the property. No such activity occurred and after approximately one hour he returned to Barrhead.

The next day Tim Obrigewitch called Officer Watson’s residence and left a message stating he had obtained a key and volunteered to let him examine the contents of the barn. This was not done as the officer thought it unlikely under the circumstances that any evidence would remain there. In light of what was to follow, Obrigewitch’s offer remains somewhat of a mystery.

In the days that followed, Officers Watson and McKee continued to follow up on what information they had relating to the moose and possible deer. In the course of general discussions with members of the Barrhead RCMP, the topic of the Obrigewitch situation came up. It was discovered that the RCMP were also interested in the activities of this individual as they had reason to suspect he may be involved in illegal drugs. The observations made by Officer Watson were of interest in that they supported the possibility that a marihuana hydroponics operation may be ongoing at that location. This type of operation requires space, cover and a considerable amount of electrical energy. Previous investigations into this type of activity have identified excessive electrical consumption as evidence in obtaining a search warrant. It was possible the generators observed by Officer Watson had been purchased to provide non-traceable electricity on-site. Armed with this information and that gained by sources of their own, RCMP officers obtained a search warrant for the lands and buildings owned by Tim Obrigewitch and on Dec. 17, 1997 they executed that warrant. The primary purpose for the warrant was the location and seizure of drugs and drug-related equipment. However, since the possibility of discovering wildlife in the execution of that warrant could not be ruled out, Officer Watson accompanied the RCMP and was prepared to deal with those items should any be found. A small package of what was believed to be wildlife meat was in fact found, however, no charges were laid in relation to that item. As for drugs and drug equipment, considerable evidence was found and seized. In all, approximately 1,300 young, marihuana plants were discovered along with the large quantity of equipment necessary to grow them to maturity. The operation was “nipped in the bud” before it had an opportunity to get into production.

On Sept. 17, 1998 Officer Watson provided evidence at a preliminary inquiry in Barrhead and on Oct. 4, 1999 Timothy Randy Obrigewitch entered a guilty plea to two counts in relation to his marihuana operation in Edmonton.He was sentenced to 27 months incarceration on each count. No evidence was found to support charges against anyone in relation to what was believed to be the incident of illegal hunting. Never the less, Conservation Officers in the Barrhead consider it a win and are confident that RCMP members in that district will apprise them of any information of resource violations they may receive in the future. The gate swings both ways.

S.W.H. Webb is a member of the
Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officers
Association in Calgary