An Inuvik man has been convicted of fatally shooting a polar bear out of season last year as a judge rejected his claim that he killed the bear in self-defence.
Justin Elias, 31, was found guilty Monday by Judge Christine Gagnon of killing the endangered and iconic species as well as illegally possessing its carcass under the NWT Wildlife Act.
She read her decision in a Yellowknife courtroom while Elias and his lawyer watched her verdict via video link from the Inuvik courthouse.
He could have faced jail time but the territorial government prosecutor told CKLB he is not calling for incarceration for Elias.
It’s believed he will face a fine and possible suspension of his hunting licence but prosecutor Roger Shepard says he won’t say what he is asking for in terms of punishment at this time.
He added that this was the first case of its kind in recent memory in the Northwest Territories.
During his trial, court heard that Elias and another man – a distant cousin – pulled their boat up on an island north of Inuvik late last August or early September and spotted the polar bear right away.
They were concerned that the bear would smell a freshly killed caribou in their boat.
They still went onto the island, where Elias testified in court that he fired a warning shot but the bear was not scared off.
He then shot and killed the bear.
The other man testified he did not see it happen but heard two to three shots.
He added that Elias seemed scared when he returned and told him that the bear got “pretty close” to him.
The judge ruled in her decision that the men could have prevented themselves from getting in harm’s way by simply leaving the island once they spotted the polar bear.
Gagnon said that would have kept the two from imminent danger and eliminated the need for Elias to illegally kill the bear.
It’s not entirely clear how officials found out about the kill in the first place.
Charges against Elias weren’t laid until early this year.
His sentencing hearing is to be held in Inuvik on Nov. 5.