A territorial court judge has thrown out the search warrant for last month’s raid on a cultural camp near Łútsël K’é.
On Monday, Chief Justice Shannon Smallwood agreed to throw out the warrant at the request of Larry Innes, the lawyer for the Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation. The council for the territorial government did not object to the request.
The warrant was issued last month to search a cultural camp near Łútsël K’é for illegally harvested caribou. Ten wasted carcasses were found within the mobile caribou management zone in another search.
The LKDFN has described the raid on the camp, which included elders and children, as “aggressive and disrespectful.”
In a statement following the decision, the LKDFN praised Justice Smallwood’s decision but said “this is not the end of the matter for LKDFN”.
“LKDFN repeats its calls for an investigation into the conduct of the wildlife officers and the events that led to the warrant and also an apology for what happened at our camp in September,” reads a quote attributed to Chief James Marlowe. “We believe the officials who sanctioned this should resign.”
The statement goes on to say the LKDFN is considering a civil suit against the GNWT.
“Relationships need to be restored”
Addressing the raid in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Shane Thompson did not apologize or express remorse for the raid, but said he recognized “there are relationships to be restored in the wake of this incident.”
He said he had requested a face-to-face meeting with the leadership of the LKDFN to discuss the incident.
He also spoke about the incident in more detail than he had previously: although ENR’s investigation is still ongoing, the issue is no longer before the courts.
He said on Sept. 13, two uniformed wildlife officers arrived at the camp by helicopter and spoke with LKDFN leadership about the search.
He said a narrow search of the camp was not possible because leadership would not provide information about where illegally harvested caribou products were stored, and said the samples taken as evidence were “small.”
He reiterated there would be an internal investigation into the conduct of the officers on that day.
“We recognize the importance of caribou to our Indigenous communities across the NWT. And we know that caribou harvest restrictions have been very hard on people who rely on this resource,” said Thompson.
However, he defended the GNWT’s conservation efforts by pointing to the dwindling numbers of Bathurst caribou, which have shrunk from 470,000 in 1986 to 6,200 in 2021.
Later in the same sitting, Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon again condemned the raid. “There were 80 people there including elders, children, who under threat of arrest had to stand by while ENR officers searched their dwelling and seized belongings,” he said.
“It was a return to the colonial days of colonial ways.”