A bigger hammer for bigger nails

Conservation officers in Alberta must constantly develop new skills and utilize progressive technology and legislation if we are to have any effect on the constant pressures put on the province's renewable resources and our quality of life.

Much more effective legislation is yet required to deal with the larger problems of air and water quality and the effects of greenhouse gasses on global warming. However, progress has been made in one area. The passage of the Wild Animal and Plant Protection Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA) has made it more difficult to use borders to escape prosecution, as illustrated in the following investigation.

The first of many twists and turns, this case began on Nov. 10, 1998 when Dean E. Wilkie, a 50-year-old resident of Lenoir, North Carolina arrived in Alberta. He had arranged for a big game hunt in this province with a licensed guide. Since the hunt was booked to begin a week from that date, on Nov. 17, he drove east to take advantage of an opportunity to hunt migratory birds with 34-year-old Jeffrey Robson, a resident of Rosetown, Saskatchewan.

According to a statement provided later, en route he stopped at the small town of Cereal south of Calgary and while there purchased two sets of trophy deer antlers. One set was taken from a mule deer, the second from a whitetail. He was later to admit paying two individuals $300 for the antlers but stated he did not know them, nor could he recall their names. Following the transaction he continued on to Saskatchewan and crossed the border without an export permit for the wildlife in his possession.

In Saskatchewan, he teamed up with Robson, an individual with an extensive history of resource violations and convictions in Saskatchewan ranging from illegal possession of wildlife and migratory birds, hunting out of season, wasting game, providing false information and smuggling a bighorn sheep skull and horns.

Following their migratory bird-hunting activities that week, Wilkie left the deer heads with Robson and returned to Alberta in time to start his big game hunt on November 17, 1998. He held licenses to hunt both whitetail and mule deer but according to his later statements did not see anything of sufficient size to consider taking. He completed his hunt in Alberta with two unused tags, which he then sent back to Robson in Rosetown, Saskatchewan.

On Feb. 19, 1999 Jeffery Robson delivered four deer heads to a taxidermist in Edmonton, Alberta. The person to whom they were presented is a professional and noted for his quality work with trophy mounts. The Saskatchewan export permit produced by Robson at the time accounted for only two heads; the remaining two were unaccounted for. This posed a problem to the taxidermist who asked for documentation on the other two. Put on the spot to explain the two trophies for which no export permit was obtained, Robson produced a photocopy of Wilkie's license and the two tags sent to him for that purpose. Unfortunately for him he had failed to consider that these unused tags were not altered to affix to an animal and would not pass the scrutiny of a legitimate taxidermist. However, feeling confident that this clever conspiracy with Wilkie would baffle authorities, he left the animals with the taxidermist and returned to Saskatchewan.

As it turned out he misjudged both the integrity of the taxidermist and the tenacity of the conservation officers who took on the investigation, in particular, Officer Chris Watson. Working backwards from the initial information provided at this point, Officer Watson, with the assistance of other officers and members of the Special Investigations Section, began to unravel the trail of evidence left by Wilkie and Robson.

Working with the taxidermist, Officer Watson was in a position to determine when Wilkie intended to return to retrieve the four heads and was waiting for him with an arrest warrant when he did. Wilkie was arrested and charged with one count of being in illegal possession of wildlife for each of the two heads under the Wildlife Act of Alberta. He was also charged with one count of unlawful inter-provincial transport of wildlife and one count of providing a false and misleading statement under the provisions of WAPPRIITA.

In total, 18 months of effort went into unraveling the conspiracy entered into by these two individuals and the laying of those charges. It required interviewing and re-interviewing all parties who played a role, whether part of the illegal act or not. As is usually the case, "statement facts" provided at the time of the initial exchanges could not be taken at face value but required confirmation by checking against "known facts" derived from documents and verified situations. This process involved authorities in two provinces and one state and crossed inter-provincial and international boundaries.

The complexity of this type of investigation poses unique problems in bringing violators to justice. The main players, Dean Wilkie and Jeffrey Robson, could not be compelled to appear in an Alberta court to deal with the matter. This situation occurs more and more frequently as the world shrinks and requires exercising alternatives and liberal doses of diplomacy to convince the accused that it is in his or her best interests to deal with the matter. Ultimately both Wilkie and Robson received the necessary legal documents and were convinced to deal with the charges.

On Oct. 5, 1999 Jeffrey Robson appeared before provincial court Judge Chisholm in Edmonton. He plead guilty to one count of illegal possession under Section 54(1) of the Wildlife Act of Alberta and was fined $2,500. He also plead guilty to unlawfully transporting wildlife under WAPPRIITA and fined $7,000. The two other counts, one of illegal possession and one of providing a false statement, were withdrawn. In addition Judge Chisholm utilized the provisions of Section 22(6) of WAPPRIITA to place conditions on Robson in relation to his hunting activities. He is to report any and all information respecting personal harvest of, and possession of, any big game species to authorities in Saskatchewan for three years from the date of conviction. He is also required to contact enforcement personnel in both Saskatchewan and Alberta before initiating any import or export of any fish or wildlife for the same period of time.

Almost one year to the day later, on Oct. 4, 2000, Dean Wilkie appeared in provincial court in Edmonton before Judge J.C. Spence and entered a guilty plea in relation to one count of unlawfully transporting wildlife under Section 7(2) of WAPPRIITA. Three other charges in relation to the traffic, possession and transport of the heads were withdrawn. He paid a fine of $5,000 in relation to the single conviction and was also assessed further conditions in relation to his hunting activities in Alberta. He is required to notify authorities seven days prior to entering this province for the purpose of hunting or coming into possession of big game. He is also required to provide, in writing, the duration of his hunt, the identity of anyone outfitting and guiding him and any licenses or permits required. These conditions are also in effect for three years.Alberta in