A Tofino man has been sentenced to 30 days in jail for killing a bear and its cub in what the Conservation Officer Service is calling a “precedent-setting case.”
Ryan Owen Millar was sentenced in Tofino Provincial Court on Monday to 30 days in jail and received an $11,000 fine and a 20-year ban on hunting and possessing weapons, according to the Conservation Officer Service.
Millar was found guilty of killing wildlife not within an open season and killing a black bear under two years old, or a bear in the company of a bear under two.
There is no open season for wildlife within 100 metres of a dwelling or occupied outbuilding, nor is there an open season for a black bear less than two years of age, or a bear in the company of a bear under two, the Conservation Officer Service said.
The charges relate to an Oct. 14, 2021, incident in which a tourist staying at a vacation rental next to Millar’s property reported seeing Millar shoot two black bears out of a nearby tree with a bow and arrow.
Sgt. Daniel Eichstadter of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service said it’s the first conviction he’s aware of for killing an animal out of open season under the Wildlife Act that led to jail time.
“I think it sends a very strong message to the public that if you’re going to commit an offence, be prepared that this is a very possible outcome,” Eichstadter said.
Eichstadter, who has been with the Conservation Officer Service for 10 years and is based in Port Alberni, said he’s glad to see the precedent set and believes it will deter others from illegally killing wildlife.
Millar said during his trial in May and June that he shot the animals in self-defence, an argument that Justice Alexander Wolf rejected.
The witness, Thomas Funk, told the court that he and his spouse heard a noise from the property next door and saw two black bears about five metres up in a tree. Funk said he noticed Millar also watching the animals and then going into his house to retrieve a couple of bows.
Funk said Millar hit one bear with an arrow and it fell out of the tree. Before Funk could yell at him to ask what he was doing, Millar shot the downed bear again, he said.
Millar then loaded the longbow again and took aim at the second bear, which was still up in the tree, hitting it with an arrow. The injured fear fell out of the tree and ran away, but Millar chased after it and took another shot, Funk told the court.
Funk took video of Millar grabbing one of the bears by the scruff and putting it under a tarp.
Funk called police and an officer briefly visited Millar’s residence, he said.
Shortly after the police visit, Funk saw a white truck pull into Millar’s driveway and it appeared that hunting gear and weapons were being removed from the home, as well as the body of a small dead bear, he said.
Millar declined to provide any evidence on his behalf, but suggested the bears had been in his yard earlier in the day burying a deer carcass and that he acted in self defence.
The judge noted Millar gave conflicting statements to police and conservation officers, telling the first RCMP officer at the scene he didn’t know anything about a bear being shot. He later said he was worried about his dogs because he had a stash of meat on his property and the bear didn’t react when he tried to scare it away.
In different statements, Millar said he had been charged by a bear a month before, and then said he had never been charged before the day he shot the two bears in the tree, calling it a “near-death experience.”
Wolf said in his decision he did not find Millar’s account credible.
“To be clear, without any hesitation, and to be as polite as possible, I conclude that his version of events is fabricated. … Mr. Millar simply wanted to kill the two bears, and that is what he did,” he wrote.
Eichstadter said conservation officers are grateful to Funk for immediately reporting the incident.
“I can’t highlight enough how important it was that the civilian witnesses did the right thing,” he said.
The majority of the $11,000 fine will go to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, a non-profit that aims to protect fish and wildlife habitats.