The Western Star
Evidence from fisheries officer dominates first day of blueback trial
CORNER BROOK Jim Francis spent much of Tuesday listening to Katie O’Brien, Crown attorney, catalogue many documents he seized in the spring of 1996.
Francis, a fisheries officer with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Bay Roberts, testified at the trial of 11 sealers on charges they sold blueback seal pelts. A blueback is a hood seal that has not shed its coat.
Charges were filed against Keith Bath, Victor Barrett, Terry King, Barry Lacey, Derrick Pinksen, Fred Ryan, Dyson Sacrey, Patrick Shelley, Mark Small, Linsay Small and Robert Small after a search warrant was executed on Carino and Company’s plant in Dildo. Charges were also laid against Barry Dicks, Roger Noble, Ivan Small and Melvin Starkes, but they were withdrawn Tuesday. Averill Baker is the lawyer representing the sealers.
Francis and O’Brien spent much of the morning confirming that purchase slips, payroll printouts, trucking slips, grading sheets and other documents with lot numbers and names associated with the sealers were the ones he’d seized 12 years before.
He testified that about 24,000 blueback pelts were seized in 1996 — roughly three times the quota he remembered for hood seals. He said the total seal quota was about 240,000 animals that year.
“In late March of 1996 DFO learned there were large numbers of blueback seals taken and there were whitecoats taken,” Francis said. “As a result of the information that a lot of bluebacks and whitecoats had been taken DFO embarked on an investigation.”
He said his understanding of the law at the time was you could hunt bluebacks for personal use, but it was illegal to buy, sell or barter blueback pelts.
An open letter from Carino addressed to “sealers” on the subject of hopper hoods, which Francis said is an industry term for bluebacks, was entered into evidence.
The letter said sealers would not receive payment for hopper hoods until DFO makes a decision on whether or not they could be sold.
Baker also questioned Francis about his recollection of the decision to investigate a problem with bluebacks at the Carino plant and why his notes only began on April 4 if he’d been in the plant at least twice since mid-March.
“My investigation started April 4,” Francis said. “I’d go so far as to say it started April 3. At that point I felt it would be prudent to make notes in my notebook for investigations. After April 4 I was aware my notes would be important at a later date.”
He said previous to that his notes were made in his daily diary, where he kept lunch appointments and dates for talks in schools.
Outside the courtroom, Baker said the length of the case is due to the Crown’s persistence in appealing every victory the sealers win. She said the Crown is offering an absolute discharge in exchange for a guilty plea — a dirty deal in her opinion.
“If they’re willing to settle for an absolute discharge, why not own up to withdrawing the charge, or entering a stay,” Baker said. “ The truth is DFO monitored this hunt. They were present. They monitored the offloading. They broadcast the latitude and longitude of the location of the hopper hoods...
“As we heard today, DFO was in the plant three times seizing white coats caught by a vessel from the Magdalene Islands walking right by the bluebacks right up to April 4.”