Gunpoint arrest of First Nations moose harvester dishonours the Crown: lawyer

moose harvester

Jordan McKay was arrested at gunpoint and had the moose he harvested taken away. File photo.

A Rolling River First Nation man says he was taken down at gunpoint by two Manitoba RCMP officers in a rural field and held in custody for several hours before being released without charges.

On Sept. 18, 2021, Jordan McKay says he was harvesting a bull moose for his family in an area his community has harvested food for generations – long before settlers arrived and long after the dead-end road he was on, was built.

McKay told his story to APTN InFocus. He was alone on an undeveloped road allowance that runs north-south. He was near the end of the dead-end road when a bull moose appeared.

“It was coming straight at me from the north. It turned, I shot it, it turned again and I shot it again and it fell right where it was standing,” McKay said.

He messaged family to come to help him then went to get his truck and put away his gun.

He says a vehicle pulled up and the driver asked if he’d been shooting at his house across the river to the east.

“I said no I was raised to not point my gun in the direction of anybody or any house and I was shooting straight to the north and road comes to an end in the north,” he said.

According to McKay, the driver asked where he was from and seemed satisfied that McKay wasn’t shooting across the river towards his house, he left.

“My gun was in the truck unloaded. I was done with it so it was put away,” McKay said.

He tied the moose to his truck and started cutting it up while waiting for help when police arrived. He says he went to his truck to get cigarettes when officers got out and started yelling.

“It was two police with assault rifles pointed at me they told me to put my hands up and start walking towards them and get face down on the ground. They put me in handcuffs and told me I’m under arrest,” McKay said, adding they could “perfectly” see the dead moose behind him.

Parks Canada and Manitoba conservation officers showed up later. RCMP uncuffed him and left him without charges. Manitoba Conservation, however, fined him nearly $500 for shooting off a public road and hit him with an additional $2,500 fine in restitution and fees. They also confiscated his rifle.

McKay said they also complained that farmers in the area had put up no hunting signs and he “shot someone else’s moose.”

In the end, Conservation officers seized the moose, McKay said. So his community didn’t get to eat after all he went through.

Read More: 

Special Report: Treaties, Moose and a line in the Sand 

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) hired lawyer Aliza Lalji to fight the matter for McKay, taking a stand for harvesters now and in the future.

“Jordan has had generations of hunting lessons from his uncle and grandfather and he’s been consistent in saying he was safe,” Lalji said.

The Crown has offered to reduce the fines but McKay and AMC want them dropped entirely. Lalji says if it’s suddenly wrong to shoot down a dead-end road with no people or home in the distance – as has been done by harvesters from many First Nations in the area, for many generations — it’s an attack on treaty rights and not about safety.

“Laws that make no sense are bad laws,” she said. “Canada’s forms of justice don’t reconcile with traditional (harvesting). In this time of reconciliation, this is directly contrary to that. We should be conforming laws to how (First Peoples) have traditionally treated the land and used it and respecting their rights.”

There’s also the issue of the Honor of the Crown,

The Government of Canada claims to “recognize that it must uphold the honour of the Crown, which requires the federal government and its departments, agencies, and officials to act with honour, integrity, good faith, and fairness in all of its dealings with Indigenous peoples.”

But Lalji said approaching an unarmed First Nations harvester with guns drawn and holding him for several hours in handcuffs before fining him for exercising his treaty right “isn’t honourable.”

The RCMP said their response was protocol when called to a report of shots fired near a residence.

“Officers responded and as per all calls involving firearms, took the necessary precautions when approaching the suspect and his vehicle,” the federal police said in a statement. “The male suspect, who was initially observed reaching into this vehicle when officers arrived, was arrested without incident.”

McKay said he was getting cigarettes before officers stopped.

The ordeal has taken a toll on the life-long harvester, a provider for his family and community.

“All I could think of is if this is what’s going to happen when I’m hunting, then why do it,” McKay said.

“It killed the whole hunting thing for me.  I tried once (since Sept 18) but was looking over my shoulder the whole time.”

Lalji is in discussions with the Crown to hopefully resolve the matter but if not, it will go to court.

“I’m doing this for the future generation so hopefully they don’t have this happen to them,” McKay said.

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