The sentencing hearing continued this morning for a local man charged with several counts of poaching big and small game animals and permitting meat to waste.
Jonathan Arthur Ensor is a 34-year-old resident of the Golden Horn subdivision. He pleaded guilty last week to 16 wildlife violations, including illegally killing a bison, elk, deer, caribou and Dall sheep.
Territorial court judge Mike Cozens said this morning Ensor’s case is among the most serious wildlife cases he knows of, so will take some time in considering the sentence.
The judge adjourned sentencing to Jan. 20.
Territorial Crown prosecutor Megan Seiling asked the court this morning for six months in jail for Ensor, a $15,000 fine to be paid to the Turn In Poachers and Polluters Program and a 20-year hunting prohibition.
In submissions to the judge, Seiling said while it’s rare to impose jail terms for infractions under the Wildlife Act and regulations, Ensor’s actions are certainly deserving of time in jail.
Ensor, on the other hand, asked for no time in jail, but a fine of $45,000 instead of $15,000, and a lifetime hunting ban instead of a 20-year-ban.
Serving time in jail could prove to be such a huge burden to his employer that it may affect the contractor’s ability to fulfill his obligations at the construction sites of the new Salvation Army shelter and the Whitehorse General Hospital expansion, he told the judge.
Cozens, however, asked Ensor if he’d given careful consideration to exchanging an additional $30,000 and a lifetime hunting ban to spare going to jail.
A sentence of six months at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre would end after four months, but a fine of $45,000 paid at $1,000 a month, as Ensor proposed, would drag out for years, he said.
Cozens told Ensor since he is representing himself, he wanted to ensure he’d given careful consideration to his sentencing proposal.
Most of the charges date back to September and October of 2015. A few reach back to 2014, including charges of poaching a Dall sheep and caribou in B.C. and illegally transporting them back to the Yukon.
Charges were laid last June. Sentencing began last week but was adjourned to this morning.
A co-accused, 45-year-old Vanessa Pasula of Haines Junction, pleaded guilty last August to four counts.
Pasula was subsequently ordered to pay $5,000 into the anonymous TIPP line.
She was also prohibited from hunting for three years and ordered to take a hunter education and ethics course before obtaining another hunting licence.
The Haines Junction resident pleaded guilty to killing a bison in September 2015 when not permitted to, and allowing the meat to waste.
Pasula also pleaded guilty to not reporting the bison kill within 10 days as required, as well as allowing grouse meat to spoil.
The Crown prosecutor told the judge there is no evidence Ensor was trafficking in wildlife parts nor attempting to profit from his activities.
But it’s clear his illegal hunting was carried out intentionally, and regularly, Seiling told the judge.
When Ensor hunted illegally in B.C., it wasn’t a case of his losing track of where the border is; it was a case of his not caring where it is, she said.
Furthermore, she said, a key aspect of the Crown’s request for a six-month jail term is the fact Ensor did all this illegal hunting when he was under a firearms prohibition.
The Crown prosecutor called a conservation officer and big game biologist to testify this morning about just how tough it is to enforce wildlife regulations and over such a large area.
She had the biologist explain to the court that while one might believe the Yukon’s remoteness breeds robust populations of big game like moose and caribou and endless harvest opportunities, that’s not the case.
The Yukon, the biologist told the judge, is also home to some of the last natural populations of predators like wolves and grizzly bears which consume their share of big game.
And in more populated areas where human access is greater such as the Annie Lake Road – where Ensor poached a deer in the dark using illegal armor-piercing ammunition inside the 800-metre no-hunting corridor – it’s even more important to ensure proper wildlife management, the biologist suggested.
She told the judge poaching and the lack of reporting big game harvests can throw off population assessments and affect not only proper wildlife management but also legitimate hunting opportunities for licenced hunters.
Ensor told the court his motive for conducting the illegal hunts was to provide food for his family, given the high cost of living – rent, travel.
He has a support network and a plan in place going forward, he told the judge.
“I have made the changes in my life to ensure this will never happen again.”
During the casual exchange between Cozens and Ensor, the judge asked what the offender was thinking when he decided to undertake these illegal hunting activities, over and over and over again.