By Tim Petruk
Kamloops This Week
Is it a witch hunt or a fraudulent sheep hunt?
The defence lawyer representing an alleged cross-border poacher accused of lying about where he shot a record-setting Dall sheep more than 15 years ago says provincial authorities are on a witch hunt aimed at giving his client a bad name.
Abe Dougan was back in Kamloops provincial court on Wednesday, Feb. 4, for the continuation of his trial on a dozen poaching charges stemming from a 1999 Dall sheep hunt.
The Kamloops-based hunting guide claims to have killed the sheep in a remote part of northwestern B.C., where he had been entitled to do so in August 1999.
The trophy earned a spot in the Big Game Records of B.C. record book — where a photo of Dougan posing with the sheep was published alongside a brief first-person account of the hunt, in which Dougan described tracking the animal through a mountain range in northwest B.C.
In 2011, Environment Yukon received a confidential tip that the photo of Dougan was actually taken in the Yukon, where he was not permitted to hunt.
Using three-dimensional mapping software, an investigator located a Yukon mountain with similar characteristics to the mountain in the background of Dougan’s photo.
In the summer of 2011, investigators flew by helicopter to the site they claim Dougan bagged the sheep — 18 kilometres north of the Yukon/B.C. border.
They took a photo of the mountain range from what they felt was the exact location Dougan’s hunting partner was standing when the trophy photo was taken, court heard.
The two pictures bear striking similarities, including a series of slides in the background and a distinct plateau on a mountain over Dougan’s left shoulder.
Last week, Dougan was charged with three new counts stemming from an unrelated cougar hunt near Williams Lake more than a year ago.
Dougan, along with Brent Giles and Ryan Hartling, is facing one count each of hunting wildlife within six hours of being airborne, unlawful possession of dead wildlife and failing to accompany a person guided.
“These people [B.C. conservation authorities] have made it their life’s work to get Mr. Dougan,” defence lawyer Kevin Church said in court.
“They’re embarrassing him to Mr. Giles, the person that he’s working for. They’re telling him, ‘This guy is a bad guy. You shouldn’t deal with him. We know when we hear Abe Dougan’s around, we’re after you. So, don’t deal with this guy. Don’t hire this guy.’”
The charges against Dougan, Giles and Hartling were sworn on Jan. 29. Church said the charges likely wouldn’t have been laid if not for the interest in Dougan generated by the Dall sheep case — a trial that has been ongoing sporadically for well over a year.
All three accused in the latest indictment are slated to make first appearances in Williams Lake provincial court next month.
Church went on to say the Dall sheep charges are not serious enough to warrant the amount of court time they have garnered.
“You have murders, you have accessing of child pornography by people in authority,” he said.
“It’s not a sexual-assault case, it’s the harvest of a sheep. Again, I’m not trying to diminish it entirely. But, there are still sheep tags given in that part of British Columbia. This was not a harvest of the last of its species. This was a legal animal harvested in British Columbia, we say.”
During a hearing in December, Dougan denied that the Crown photo and the background of his trophy photo were “an exact match.”
“I agree that the backdrop has some similarities, as many mountain areas do,” he said.
Church has asked Kamloops provincial court Judge Stella Frame to toss the Dall sheep charges based on delay. She has not yet ruled on that application.
The Dall sheep trial will likely continue on March 9. If convicted, Dougan could lose his B.C. guide licence and be banned from hunting in the province.
In August, Dougan was convicted in a Yukon court on charges alleging he wasted meat from sheep, caribou and moose killed in 2011 and hunted too soon after being airborne. In that instance, Dougan was a guide leading a Wyoming hunter on a hunt for stone sheep.
The American hunter was fined $11,500 and barred from hunting in the Yukon for 10 years.
Dougan was ordered to pay $15,000 in fines and banned from hunting or guiding in the Yukon for 20 years.