After a legal win last Friday (October 25th) for the District of Invermere in a year-and-a-half long court battle over culling deer, the final word on deer management in the district will likely be left up to local citizens.
Last Friday, B.C. Supreme Court Madam Justice Miriam Gropper dismissed the lawsuit brought forward by Shane Suman and the Invermere Deer Protection Society, saying it failed on its three arguments of jurisdiction, procedural fairness, and unreasonableness.
With the district’s legal victory, the upcoming Saturday, November 2nd referendum question on deer culling — a secondary question on the referendum that will seek local citizens’ authorization for the district to borrow nearly $6 million towards a new community centre — will take on a heightened importance, said Mayor Gerry Taft.
“The referendum will have much more of an impact around what happens in the future; the result of the opinion poll will guide and inform council about what to do next,” he told The Valley Echo.
“Legally, it’s not a binding referendum, but realistically, I can’t picture council going against the results.”
“It’s a definite relief to have this resolved,” he said of the legal case, which concluded after arguments for and against were made in B.C. Supreme Court on October 10th and 11th. “The threat of ongoing legal action is something other municipalities were watching this closely.”
The legal petition was brought forward by Mr. Suman and the Invermere Deer Protection Society more than a year and a half ago, when the district was ready to cull 100 deer.
“Because they were attacking the process, the consultation and the resolutions authorizing the first cull, we wanted to resolve this issue,” said Mayor Taft, who noted the cull itself wasn’t directly impeded by this lawsuit, but he and others and council wanted to see it clarified before proceeding. “Other communities across the province were also looking for this to be resolved.”
Residents voting in the upcoming community centre referendum will have the opportunity to answer the deer question, which asks: “Do you approve council of the district of Invermere to use a deer cull as a method to control the urban deer population?”
“If there’s a strong majority of people saying yes to a deer cull as one of the tools, that doesn’t necessarily mean we start a deer cull the next day,” said Mayor Taft, who noted the district has no money budgeted in 2014 for a deer cull.
Invermere Deer Protection Society president Devin Kazakoff said the dismissal of his group’s case is “a decision that we’ve been prepared for for quite a long time.”
“We were expecting that decision; we would’ve loved to have been right, but this is what happened,” he said. “It’s not going to stop us from advocating for wildlife.”
“We truly believe the majority of Invermere residents love the deer and don’t want to see a cull,” he added. “We hope that shows up in the poll on November 2nd.”
The group doesn’t believe costs should be awarded to either party, since it was a case in the public interest, said Mr. Kazakoff.
“Our members had nothing to gain personally from this whole endeavour, so we don’t believe we should have to pay for any of the costs,” he said. “We’ve spent enough on our legal bills,” he said, adding the group’s lawyer, Rebeka Breder with Boughton law, worked at a slightly discounted rate for the group, but not for free.
“This was a dismissal, not necessarily a ruling in the district’s favour, though it is the outcome they wanted,” he said. “Nobody won, so nobody should have to pay each other’s court bills; we’ll just have to see what happens with court costs.”
The District of Invermere “will be actively seeking to recoup as much for costs as we can,” said Mayor Taft, adding it’s likely the district’s total cost in the case is now close to $40,000. Costs will be determined at a later court appearance, likely in about two months from now.
The deer protection society is now looking into a provincial application process to run a facility “to take care of injured wildlife, injured deer in particular,” said Mr. Kazakoff, who said he’s soon to attend a wildlife rehabilitation course.
“We’re not going away; we’re going to be here for the long haul and will continue advocating for deer and changing the attitudes of Invermere residents,” he said.
The only comparable wildlife rehabilitation clinics in the Kootenays are found in Jaffray and in Nelson, he said.
“We’d like to have volunteers, and run it kind of like the Invermere Companion Animal Network,” he said. “It’s something we’re looking into.”