A B.C. Supreme Court judge has overturned a hefty fine levied against a B.C. woman who pleaded guilty to feeding bears on her property in the summer of 2018.
Zuzana Stevikova was slapped with a nearly $60,000 fine in the case in October 2021, nearly six times the $10,500 the Crown and defence had suggested in a joint sentencing submission. The fine was the highest-ever overall penalty imposed under the B.C. Wildlife Act.
At the original sentencing, B.C. Provincial Court judge Lyndsay Smith noted that the Conservation Officer Service was forced to put down a mother bear and two cubs who were repeatedly visiting the area after being habituated to the food.
Smith ruled that Stevikova had good intentions in feeding the animals, but that did not mitigate her culpability in the case, particularly given that messaging around bear safety and wildlife regulations was widely distributed in Whistler.
In a decision published Thursday, Justice Miriam Gropper concluded the trial judge had erred in her ruling and restored the $10,500 fine.
“The judge failed to give clear and cogent reasons for departing from the joint submission and as to why the proposed sentence would offend justice. In doing so, the judge did not consider the benefits of joint submissions and how they specifically applied in this case,” Gropper wrote.
In her ruling, Gropper found that the proposed $10,500 fine was already at the high end of the range of sentences under the Wildlife Act, and thus unlikely to offend the public, as Smith had proposed.
She referred to two other cases in which offenders were handed much lower sentences after feeding bears for profit and which involved the intentional killing of bears or hunting for sport.
The trial judge also set deterrence as her key sentencing principle, ruling that the bear feeding was planned and deliberate and that the destruction of the bears was “clearly foreseeable,” Gropper ruled.
That determination was partly built on the trial judge’s own personal observation of signage in the Whistler area reading “a fed bear is a dead bear.”
“Even if it were permissible, Crown’s submissions made clear that taking judicial notice that a ‘fed bear is a dead bear’ was wrong ‘because the death of the bears is not necessarily, always the outcome of (Conservation Officer Service) intervention,'” Gropper ruled.
“The inferences regarding the fitness of the sentence flowing from the judicial notice are, therefore, also incorrect.”
In overturning the $60,000 fine, Gropper found that the trial judge also appeared to have considered Stevikova’s partner’s “financial position as a reason to increase the penalty.”
The reduced sentence requires Stevikova to pay a $1,000 fine and make a $9,500 contribution to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.
According to the agreed statement of facts filed in the case, Stevikova repeatedly fed black bears between June and August of 2018 from her luxury Kadenwood home.
Stevikova was found to have bought bulk produce to feed the bears, including up to 10 cases of apples, 50 pounds of carrots and pears, and up to 15 dozen eggs, all on a weekly basis.