Animal rights groups sue Ontario government over coyote hunting contest

A coyote off in the distance walking through snow. Global News

An annual coyote hunting contest hosted by an outdoor store in Belleville has prompted three animal rights groups to file a lawsuit against the Ontario government for allowing it to happen.

Activists say the contest is essentially a bounty and should be illegal because it has not been authorized by the province.

“The government knows what the laws are and they’re just choosing to ignore them,” said Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice.

Labchuk said the annual coyote hunting contest hosted by Chesher’s outdoor store in Belleville is illegal and Animal Justice has filed a lawsuit against the provincial government for not applying the law.

“The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act actually prohibits hunting coyotes or other animals for gain or bounty so on its face this contest is illegal, so that’s why we’re suing the Ontario government for allowing it to proceed,” Labchuk said.

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According to Chesher’s Facebook page, every year throughout the month of February the store has interested hunters pay an entry fee, hunt coyotes, and bring them to the store to be weighed to see if they’re eligible for a cash prize at the end of the season.

“There is a very clear benefit being provided to the hunter that perhaps induces them to engage in additional hunting which is directly contrary to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.”

The owner of Chesher’s did not respond to a request by phone and email for an interview, but a woman who spoke inside the store said police and lawyers have advised staff not to publicly discuss the contest.

According to the woman, the store has been running the contest for about 10 years, and they started to receive a backlash last year when the store was damaged by vandals.

Animal Justice, along with Fur-Bearers and Coyote Watch Canada, want a judge to declare that the Ontario government is breaking the law because it has not provided written approval for the store to hold the contest.

The court application claims the province’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act makes it an offence to award prizes for hunting game without the written approval of the Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources, and Forestry.

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“Yet the Minister is aware of this contest, and has decided to allow it to proceed without the statutorily required authorization,” the court filing states.

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In a statement to Global News, the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry said: “Ontario has been served with a notice of application for judicial review.  Ministry counsel are reviewing the application. As this matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

According to a Facebook post last year by Chesher’s, the store noted it had been contacted by the ministry and was instructed to change the rules of the contest to exclude prizes per coyote as well as prizes for the most coyotes killed.

That’s not good enough for the animal rights groups. Labchuk said they want to protect the species, which already can be hunted year-round with a valid hunting licence in Ontario.

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“Now there’s a contest that appears to be illegal encouraging people to kill even more of them. (It) puts them in a very vulnerable and dangerous position.”

While the annual coyote hunting contest is now over, Labchuk said she hopes court proceedings will take place in the coming months to stop contests like this one from happening again next year.

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