Illegal Elk Hunt

Names have been changed to protect the guilty.


     “I didn't but my brother did!” Those simple words spoken in a small town coffee shop were enough to start an investigation into the alleged illegal hunting practices of Peter Smith from Stonewall, Manitoba.

     It was late June 2009 when a trusted confidential informant told Manitoba Natural Resource Officer (NRO) André Desrosiers about Peter Smith's comment to other hunters in the coffee shop. These hunters were upset that Peter Smith was allegedly using his twin brother's identification to “beat” Manitoba's Big Game Draw System. Peter Smith apparently applied under his own name some years and his brother's name (Michael Smith) in other years. People said that the two brothers were hard to tell apart. This thought probably played a role in Peter Smith's mind should he ever get checked by game wardens.

     The first step was to query both Peter and Michael Smith's draw histories through the Manitoba hunting licence system.An application to hunt elk in Manitoba's Interlake area under the names of Michael Smith and Peter Smith's daughter had been submitted in the spring of 2009. However, it was soon discovered that Michael Smith had moved to British Columbia by the end of June 2009, and general conversations with some Stonewall locals suggested that Michael Smith did not even hunt!

    Queries regarding various hunter's safety certificates, hunting and firearm licences showed that Peter Smith had a valid hunter's safety certificate, had purchased various big game licences for at least 10 years in a row, had applied several times to hunt elk or moose, owned several rifles and a muzzle loader. His sole draw application partner was his wife and they had been drawn three times since 1996.

     Michael Smith did not have a valid hunter's certificate, had purchased only one big game licence in the past 10 years (2004 deer), had an expired firearm possession licence and had a .22 caliber rifle registered to him. He had been drawn to hunt elk with his niece three times since 2000. He had also been drawn to hunt moose with another Stonewall area resident back in 1996. If he didn't hunt, then why did he waste money on applications and licences? Even though Michael Smith was now a B.C. resident, he was eligible to return to Manitoba to hunt elk as he was a Manitoba resident when the application went in under his name.

     Peter's daughter had a valid hunter's safety certificate, had purchased several deer licences in the past 10 years, had applied to hunt elk three times with her uncle Michael, had no firearm licence and no firearms registered to her name.

    During the latter stages of the 2009 summer, Selkirk officers met with colleagues and special investigators to discuss options. It was decided that catching Peter Smith in the act of hunting elk under Michael's licence would be difficult, but would seal the deal in terms of proving application, licencing and hunting violations. Evidence collected suggested that Peter Smith had circumvented the big game draw system at least three times in the past 10 or so years. Catching him in the act would be worth the effort! The Interlake rifle elk season began September 28, 2009 and ended October 18, 2009. Officers patrolled known elk hunting areas but did not encounter Peter Smith, his daughter or brother.

     In early November 2009, the confidential informant contacted the lead investigator, NRO Desrosiers. He told him that Peter Smith had gone elk hunting and shot a bull elk. This informant had provided credible information in the past so he was trusted by the officers. Information provided by him on previous occasions had culminated in successful search warrants and/or charges and convictions. This point would be very important should there be a need to pursue a search warrant in this investigation.

     The Selkirk officers attended every known butcher shop in the Stonewall area for information on an elk allegedly taken by a member of the Smith family. Nothing was found. Over the next 3 months however, including the information given by the confidential informant, officers corroborated the harvested elk information through five sources; one of whom was Peter Smith's other daughter.

It was meant to be
   Central Region NROs conducted a fish and wildlife check stop on November 15, 2009. Officers were assigned to vehicle screening and processing teams. At one particular time, processing was slow while screening was extremely busy so NRO Desrosiers decided to help out with screening. The third vehicle that he screened contained deer meat, therefore he accompanied the driver to the processing lane. The female driver identified herself as Wendy Smith, who is Peter Smith's other daughter. Okay, time for some fast thinking!
     The officer mentioned hearing that Peter had gotten himself an elk earlier in the fall. Wendy Smith answered that she was pretty sure that her dad had gotten an elk but did not know if it was a bull or cow. “Probably a bull,” she replied. The officer proceeded to inspect the box of deer meat that Wendy had in her possession. The officer asked if the meat was elk. Wendy Smith answered that her dad had kept the elk meat for himself and did not share it. As a result of this opportunistic check, the officers had a second confirmation that Peter Smith had gotten an elk. They also learned the name of a butcher who had processed the deer meat. It was reasonable to believe that he might have processed the elk too.

     On November 17, 2009, NRO Desrosiers attended the residence of the butcher who processed Peter Smith's deer. The butcher stated that Peter Smith had asked him to process an elk. However, the butcher was too busy with his real job. He was a farmer and did not have the time to process Peter Smith's elk. So Peter Smith left his elk to hang in the butcher's meat cooler before taking it away to Selkirk to get processed. This was a third confirmation that an elk hunt and harvest involving Peter Smith had occurred during the fall of 2009. As a result of this information, officers attended every known butcher shop in Selkirk and surrounding area, but with no luck.

    To confirm that Peter Smith did in fact utilize his brother's identification to obtain hunting licences, NROs located and spoke with Stanley Winter, a person who had been drawn to hunt moose with Michael Smith in 1996. A conversation with Stanley Winter on December 9, 2009, confirmed that he had in fact hunted moose in 1996. But he had hunted with Peter Smith! He stated not knowing that he had actually been drawn to hunt moose with Michael Smith as he was a friend and co-worker of Peter's and believed that he was applying with him. However, he also stated that he was aware that Peter Smith utilized Michael's name to obtain hunting licences.
The Smiths were twins and hard to tell apart. As far as Stanley Winter knew, Michael Smith did not even hunt. Interestingly, 1996 was the only year that Stanley Winter applied to hunt big game with either of the Smiths.

     On December 17, 2009, a British Columbia conservation officer took a witness statement from Michael Smith on behalf of the Selkirk officers. Smith stated, in part,that he did not apply to any Manitoba Big Game Draws in 2009 as he was moving to British Columbia. He also stated that he did not hunt big game in Manitoba in 2009. He also stated that he had never applied to hunt big game with his niece.

     All investigations need breaks and this one was no different. First, it was the original comment made by Peter Smith to at least one person who had been unsuccessful in being drawn to hunt elk for a number of years. Saying that he had not been drawn but his brother had been was, “rubbing their noses in it!” Then, to have the lead investigator step away from his work station to help others, only to have the suspect's daughter drive up to him was another break. He was able to glean vital information and confirming statements from this encounter. However, there were more breaks to come.

     On December 23, 2009, the lead investigator returned to Smith's deer butcher to firm up some information. The butcher was not at home so the officer went to a nearby coffee shop. He sat down with the owner and just to start up a conversation, the officer asked the owner if he knew Peter Smith. The owner said that he knew him very well. In fact, Peter Smith had posted some photographs on the shop's “Wall of Shame!” One of the photographs was of Peter Smith with the bull elk that he had shot this fall and another photograph
was of his daughter with a buck deer. The officer's jaw dropped. The owner said that the photographs were gone as Peter Smith had been back in his store within the past 2 weeks and removed them. Regardless of the photograph removal, the officer now had a person who had seen a photograph of Peter Smith with a bull elk that he claimed having taken during the fall of 2009!

     After this enlightening moment, the officer returned to the butcher's residence. He confirmed his original statement of having seen Peter Smith with 4 quarters of elk meat in early October. That elk meat had been kept in his cooler for less than 24 hours when Smith returned, loaded the elk meat and apparently delivered it to a Selkirk area butcher. The officer returned to Selkirk to attend one of the local butcher shops. During his first visit, the officer had spoken with the butcher's helper. Perhaps the butcher himself had processed Smith's elk. The butcher produced his wild meat ledger. On this ledger was written Peter Smith, one elk and the number of the tag given to his daughter when she received her elk licence. Bingo again! But there was more. An elk roast had been kept for donation to
a local service club wildlife dinner. This roast, kept in the butcher shop freezer also had the elk tag number written on the wrapper.

     In his statement to the BC conservation officer, Michael Smith stated that he had not applied to hunt elk, had never applied with his niece and had not come to Manitoba to hunt elk. There was only one last thing to corroborate. Had Michael Smith come back to Manitoba to hunt elk with his niece? A visit with Michael Smith's daughter indicated that her dad had not come back to Manitoba since he had left in June. Furthermore, his daughter stated that her dad didn't hunt.

Document, document, document

     Further investigation showed that while Michael Smith and his niece had apparently signed their applications, Peter Smith actually completed and paid for them by personal cheque ($14). This occurred in late March 2009 (internal documents). A successful 2009 elk draw notice was mailed to Peter Smith's Stonewall address in July 2009 (neither his brother nor daughter lived at that address). Peter
Smith's wife wrote the cheque to pay for both licences ($104 – internal documents). This provided further evidence that Michael Smith had no involvement with Peter Smith's scheme. The officers were meticulous in their note taking. A running history of the investigation was kept. General information, dates, times, and locations are all the necessary components of a good law enforcement file. These details are the vital information that is required when the time comes to prepare the Information to Obtain a Search Warrant.

     There are no short cuts when one prepares the Information to Obtain a Search Warrant. All points of evidence must relate to other points that ultimately prove that offences have been committed. The items to be searched for must be pertinent to the investigation and essentially supplemental to existing evidence already in the possession of the investigators. The search warrant package was reviewed by Senior NROs and special investigators. Appropriate editing was performed and around January 27, 2010, the warrant was approved by a Justice.

     On January 30, 2010, Selkirk officers converged on Peter Smith's residence in Stonewall, MB. They had picked mid-day on a weekend thinking that such a time would result in the highest possibility of the subject being at home. As the search team converged on the Smith residence, another team converged onto Peter Smith's daughter's workplace. The plan was to approach her for a statement at the same time as the search team entered the Stonewall residence. As luck would have it, Peter Smith was not at home – OH NO!! The statement team proceeded with its encounter with the daughter and was able to obtain a Statement from an Accused
from her. During this time, the search team patrolled the streets of Stonewall searching for Peter Smith's car. One officer had seen a car matching that description at a grocery store so his team returned to the store parking lot. The vehicle was no longer there. It was important that the search team conduct its operations while the daughter was being detained for fear that she would alert her father who might try to destroy or remove evidence. On one team's third pass in front of the suspect residence, they saw an oncoming vehicle
that resembled Smith's. This vehicle turned onto a side street before arriving at the house. The officers followed, observed the vehicle licence number and confirmed it as Smith's car. The officers then initiated a stop of Smith's vehicle. They approached, identified themselves, articulated their reason for the stop and asked Smith to proceed over to his house.

     Upon arrival at the Smith residence, the lead investigator took over the contact role while his partner videotaped the operation. The other members of the search team provided security, assisted in the search and seizure or took statements. The lead investigator explained the reason for their presence and produced a copy of the search warrant for the Smith residence. He read the right to counsel and police warning to Peter Smith. Peter Smith denied counsel. The officers began their search in Smith's garage. Here they located and photographed the elk antlers that Smith had kept from the 2009 elk. Several deer antler racks were observed on a shelf. An officer noticed that one set of antlers was not tagged. Smith stated that this rack was from his 2009 deer and that his tag was
around someplace.

     The search continued into the basement where the officers inspected the freezer. Numerous packages of elk meat prepared in the same way as the roast seized from the butcher shop were observed. In the freezer were multiple packages of deer meat. The deer meat was not seized as Smith provided 2009 muzzle-loader hunting tags to cover them.

     By this time the statement team assigned to Peter Smith's daughter had arrived to assist in the search. The third item listed on the search warrant was the photograph of Smith with the elk. Smith's wife showed the officers where photographs were kept and there were many places and many photographs. The search warrant also included cameras, memory cards, computer hard drives, etc. It took some time but the officers found the photograph envelope containing the 2009 elk photographs.

     Lo and behold, a couple of photographs showed a second person posing with the dead elk! Neither Peter Smith nor his wife would identify the person in the photographs. Peter said that it was just some guy who heard a shot and came to see what happened. Interestingly enough, there were no photographs of his daughter with the elk, even though she is the one who was drawn to hunt elk. The only information provided with respect to the second person in the photographs was that he was possibly a friend of one of Peter Smith's uncles.

     The fourth and last item listed on the search warrant was the 2009 elk licence issued to Peter Smith's daughter. As licences can be kept virtually anywhere in a house, furniture, vehicle, etc., through proper articulation and justification, the officers had been granted authority to search almost everywhere and everything for this licence.

     Peter Smith was asked to produce the licence. He submitted EVERY draw licence that he had been associated with since 1996; including the ones issued to his brother Michael. There was also an elk licence and tag from other persons totally unrelated to his or Michael's applications. However, he could not find or produce the 2009 elk licence. Officers literally searched every possible place where a licence would be kept but to no avail.

     As stated earlier, the search warrant permitted the officers to check many places and items, including hunting equipment and clothing. While searching a hunting jacket for the elk licence, an office rfound Peter Smith's 2009 General Deer Licence and corresponding tags in pristine condition. The date of kill was not cut out. Wait a minute, there was a set of antlers in the garage that allegedly came from Smith's 2009 buck. There were photographs of Smith with a buck in an envelope marked “2009 rifle deer” and the antlers were identical to the ones in the photograph. The officers seized Smith's 2009 General Deer Licence, photographs and
deer antlers because the date of kill had not been cut out of the game tag.

Peter Smith with the deer that he shot during the 2009 hunting season.

     During the search, Peter Smith provided a statement to investigating officers. The statement included direct questions regarding his history of applying under his brother's name. Even though the statute of limitations had expired on the hunts and licences, it had not expired on the applications. Smith denied having used his brother's identification on applications and hunts. He was adamant that his daughter had shot the elk and that he was only there to help her and to guide her. He possessed a valid Manitoba Guiding Licence and therefore he felt that he could assist her with the hunt. At one point, he even mentioned holding a rifle while with her in case she missed or wounded an animal. He acknowledged knowing that such practice was illegal but he did it anyway.

     After a while, the reality of the situation must have gotten Peter Smith's attention. He asked the officers, “What would happen if someone else pulled the trigger?”HUH! “Are you saying that you pulled the trigger?” “Did you pull the trigger?” “Did you kill this elk?” asked an officer. Smith replied that he had. Back to the statement table where he admitted having utilized his daughter's licence, not his brother's, to hunt the elk. His daughter was not there as she was working. The elk was hunted in the Broad Valley, MB area. The male subject in the photographs was another hunter who heard the shot and came around. He helped Smith drag the elk out of the bush to a field. He continued to deny knowing this other hunter.

     The search finally concluded and the officers left the Smith residence. They returned to the Selkirk office to process the seizures and compile their evidence. It was at this time that one officer noticed the small volume of elk meat. There was less than 80 lbs. of meat from an elk that had been killed less than four months prior. His own daughter said that he didn't share it with them. Could the elk meat have been shared with the person in the other photographs?

Who is this guy
Photograph indicating the involvement of a second male
subject in Peter Smith's alleged illegal elk hunt.

Who is this guy?

     Where so we begin to find out who this guy is? The officers started by reviewing the list of persons drawn to hunt elk in the same area and season where Peter Smith had illegally shot the elk. Reduce that number of persons by selecting those who appeared to be of the same age. Visit the ones who live closest to Stonewall and work outwards. If the person on the list isn't the person in the photographs, then show him the photograph to see if he knows the person in question.

     The lead investigator met with an NRO familiar with the Broad Valley, MB area. They showed the photograph of the unknown person to owners and patrons of commercial outlets and known game warden supporters in that area. No one knew the person in the photographs. The photographs were shown to known relatives of Peter Smith as the officers had been told that it was a friend of Smith's uncle. None of them recognized this person.

     The officers spent approximately three weeks knocking on doors, and then, finally, another break. Another trusted source stated that someone had given him the name of the person in the photographs. Through the law enforcement query system, investigators were able to get a photograph of the person whose name had been submitted. SHAZZAM! They finally put a name to the person in the photographs. Still, it took a couple of days to connect with him. He was asked to attend the Stonewall RCMP Detachment to meet with the officers. Due to his apparent relationship to Peter Smith and likelihood of having been involved in the illegal killing of the elk, the subject, William Henry, was read the right to counsel and police warning. He declined legal counsel and agreed to give a statement.

     William Henry described the events of September 29, 2009 and the circumstances related to the killing of the elk. He claimed that he did not know Smith and that Smith had contacted him because he knew people in the area around Broad Valley. Smith hoped that he could provide him with places where he and his daughter could hunt elk. Henry showed the officers a map of the Broad Valley area and where he believed Smith had shot his elk. Smith's daughter was not with him for the elk hunt.

     William Henry had been in the Broad Valley area earlier in the week and had seen a big bear. He had decided to return to the area to hunt this bear. It was while bear hunting that he heard a shot and proceeded to meet up with Smith. He was adamant that he had nothing to do with hunting the elk and had not received any of the elk meat.

     The lead investigator returned to the Broad Valley area with the NRO who had assisted him before. They drove trails until they found the possible killing field. A comparison of the photograph background to one section of a particular field indicated that the officers had found the “killing field” and it was private land.

     A conversation with the landowner resulted in identifying a friendship between himself and William Henry. He stated that he had not given permission for anyone to hunt elk on his property, not even William Henry. He stated that he had met Peter Smith one time and that he had been introduced to him by William Henry. He had taken both men up the trail and shown them where his property met a parcel of Crown Land. The officers left the area confident that they had taken another step towards solving this complex riddle.

     That evening, the investigator received a telephone call from William Henry. His landowner friend had told him about the visit from the officers. Henry stated that he had more to tell the officer. William Henry was asked to attend the Selkirk office the next day.

     He tried to explain why he didn't give the officers the whole story the first time, which was because of his friendship with the landowner and his desire to try and protect him. Smith did not have permission to hunt on his friend's property. Henry stated that he had introduced Smith to the landowner. The landowner did show Smith the boundary between his property and the Crown Land.

     Henry had gone to hunt that big bear. While sitting in a tree stand, he heard a rifle shot. He immediately suspected that Smith had shot an elk and by the sound, distance and direction, he was concerned that Smith had shot the elk on his friend's property. He left his tree stand and walked in the direction of the shot.

     He stated that he was shocked to see that Smith had indeed killed a bull elk on private land upon which he did not have permission to hunt. He stated not knowing why he agreed to letting Smith photograph him with the elk. He also mentioned that he told Smith to load up the elk and get out of there as he did not have permission to be on the property. Henry again denied receiving any elk meat from Smith.

     The officers told him that he still appeared to have participated in Smith's illegal elk hunt and that they would continue investigating. It was only after the officers told him that Smith did not have a licence to hunt elk that Henry's demeanor changed. The officers observed a “noticeable” slumping in his body language. The air had literally been out of his sails! At this point the officers knew that Henry wasstill holding out on pertinent information. Henry stated that he was exhausted and that he wanted to sleep on telling the officers any more information. It was arranged to have Henry and the officers contact each other again the next morning.

     The officers were busy with other things for most of the morning when Henry contacted them. He asked why nobody had phoned him. He was ready to come completely clean about the whole incident.

     The lead investigator met Henry at his house. Henry essentially repeated the same words as the day before except that he had no idea that Smith did not have an elk licence. He was very upset with Smith as his actions had caused problems between Henry and his landowner friend from the Broad Valley area. He said that his landowner friend had shown Smith exactly where he could hunt and where he couldn't.

     After hearing the shot, he knew that Smith was in the wrong place. However, instead of turning in the violator, he thought he could sweep the incident under the carpet and it would be forgotten. He also wouldn't have to tell his good friend that this new person had not only hunted on his property without permission, he had killed an elk on that property. His plan had backfired and the only option left was to lay everything out in the open.

Who gets charged, and for what?

     Compiling all the evidence to ascertain which infractions were committed and who committed them took several more weeks. The investigator spent hours poring over the evidence collected, comparing notes and information with other officers and discussing objectives with senior officers.

     Specifically, it is a violation of the Wildlife Act to make a false statement in an application for a licence or permit. Other violations of the Wildlife Act occur when a person purports to be the person to whom a licence was issued and exercises or attempts to exercise a right under a licence or permit issued to another person. It is a violation of the Wildlife Act to allow another
person to use one's licence.

     By utilizing Michael Smith's personal information to apply for a licence, purporting to be another person and exercising or
attempting to exercise the right given to the licencee, Peter Smith violated 3 sections of the Manitoba Wildlife Act related to licencing. A further violation of the Wildlife Act occurs because the person actually hunts a big game animal without a licence. The legal rationale being that the person did not have a valid licence to hunt the big game animal as the licence in his possession was obtained under false pretenses. Subsequently, if he actually harvested a big game animal, he committed a further violation by possessing illegally
taken wildlife.

    Furthermore, any person possessing wildlife taken by Peter Smith under false application would also be in violation of
the Wildlife Act, especially if they knew that the wildlife was taken illegally. An example would be any elk meat in Peter or his daughter's possession. They both participated in Peter Smith's illegal application and/or hunting practice, therefore any of the meat harvested under this illegal activity was possessed illegally. A Manitoba resident can only harvest elk in Manitoba by being drawn because there is no general elk licence. Therefore, any elk in the possession of Peter Smith or his daughter was harvested illegally.

      Michael Smith may have violated the Wildlife Act by allowing another person to use his licence. The officers believed that Michael Smith was a pawn in Peter Smith's activities so they chose to utilize him as a witness instead of pursuing prosecution against him. The Crown Prosecutor agreed.

     Peter Smith's daughter violated the Wildlife Act by being party to an illegally submitted application, hunting without a licence and possessing illegally taken wildlife. She had taken the Manitoba Hunter Safety course and possessed a hunter's safety certificate. A photograph of her with a deer that she was believed to have harvested in 2009 was hung up in a local coffee shop. In the Peter Smith residence, there were many photographs of her hunting big game. It was clear that she hunted. The officers believed that, including the year 2009, Peter Smith's daughter had participated in three of her father's illegal applications and illegal hunting activities
since the year 2000.

     A package of possible charges and their supporting evidence was prepared for presentation to a Crown Prosecutor. The lead investigator and his Chief NRO met with a Crown Prosecutor in early May 2010. The officers were asked about the objectives of the investigation. Were they to charge everyone connected to the incident regardless of their degree of complicity? Or was putting an end to Peter Smith's apparent illegal activities the main objective? It was decided that the objectives were to end Peter Smith's illegal activities, to ensure penalties appropriate to the violations that he had committed and that the penalties included suspension of hunting privileges.

  After this meeting the investigator filed four charges of the Wildlife Act against Peter Smith. They were:
     Count 1: Hunt big game animal without licence.
     Count 2: Kill big game animal without licence.
     Count 3: Possess illegally taken wildlife.
     Count 4: Fail to cut out date of kill immediately after killing big game animal.

     Potential penalties as indicated by set fines could reach $4,500, with multiple year suspension of all hunting and guiding licences, and forfeiture of all seizures. No other persons were charged with offences related to this incident.

The aftermath

     Near the middle of May 2010, NRO André Desrosiers served a summons upon Peter Smith. This completed a 10 month investigation into the illegal hunting activities of Peter Smith of Stonewall, Manitoba. On September 30, 2010, Peter Smith pleaded guilty to hunting big game animals without a licence and possessing illegally taken wildlife. The other two charges were stayed. Peter Smith agreed to a fine of $2,500. All of his Manitoba hunting and guiding privileges were suspended for two years and all seized wildlife parts were forfeited to the Crown. The rest of the elk meat was never located.

Author: André Desrosiers.
André is a member of the
Manitoba Natural Resource Officers Association..

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