It seemed like a slam-dunk case (although “bull’s eye” is probably a more fitting metaphor). In 2005, concerned residents of Owen Sound, Ont., began to complain about reckless hunters shooting at game from the comfort of their cars. Hoping to snare a poacher in the act, provincial conservation officers orchestrated a standard sting operation: they planted a decoy—a fake, life-sized, white-tailed deer—in a vacant field. And then they waited.
On Nov. 10, just before suppertime, the Buckton brothers took the bait. Gerald and Bruce W. stopped their pickup truck on the shoulder, three gunshots rang out, and a few minutes later, enforcement staff seized a high-powered rifle—still warm—from the front seat. A judge has since declared that there was “ample evidence” to justify the bust.
Yet three years and two appeals later, the case is still dragging through the courts. What should have been a straightforward trial has evolved into a legal battle over the ministry’s right to use artificial animals as a ruse to trap illegal hunters. The Bucktons claim that the decoys represent an “abuse of process” that “is inherently dangerous, tantamount to the state inducing people to shoot firearms at targets in dangerous situations.”
The defence tactic worked the first time around. A justice of the peace stayed all charges in 2006, in part because the wildlife officers did not ask the landowner for permission to place the phony deer on his property. Last month, however, a higher court judge reversed the decision and ordered a new trial, ruling that the replicas are neither an abuse of process nor a danger to oblivious bystanders. “There were no buildings or farm animals in the vicinity,” Justice Julia Morneau wrote in her 11-page ruling. “There was no evidence that other humans or animals came onto the scene before or during the alleged shooting. The officers were in a position to halt the operation if public safety became an issue.” A date has not been set for trial number three.