Long-standing division in Invermere over how to deal with urban deer has now reached a new, much more personal level with Invermere mayor and Columbia River-Revelstoke NDP candidate Gerry Taft being sued for defamation.
The lawsuit was filed months ago by Invermere resident and BC Deer Protection Society member Devin Kazakoff and is scheduled to be heard by the B.C. Supreme Court in Cranbrook in about two weeks time.
In the lawsuit, Mr. Kazakoff references an online comment by Mr. Taft, made in January 2016, in which Mr. Taft labelled Mr. Kazakoff “a convicted felon” in relation to Mr. Kazakoff pleading guilty in 2015 to charges of tampering with deer traps in Kimberley in 2014.
The Pioneer contacted Mr. Kazakoff several times seeking comment on the matter, but did not receive a reply. He had, however, earlier confirmed to the Vancouver Sun that the case is ongoing and that he can’t discuss details.
For damaging the traps, Mr. Kazakoff was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay fines, but did not get a permanent criminal record for the vandalism.
According to the Vancouver Sun, Kazakoff’s case outlines that “the defamatory words published by the defendant (Mr. Taft) were calculated to expose the plaintiff (Mr. Kazakoff) to contempt, ridicule, hatred and humiliation, to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking people generally, and to cause other persons to shun and avoid the plaintiff, all of which has in fact occurred and continues to occur.”
Mr. Taft, however, was willing to offer some comments, although he couldn’t get into too much detail, saying that in fact the case — which is meant to be a seven-day trial by jury — may not proceed on April 11th as it is supposed to.
“Right now there is some uncertainty about when it is supposed to start,” he said, adding a hearing on April 3rd will determine whether or not it will be a jury trial. Originally it was Mr. Kazakoff’s legal team that had wanted a jury trial.
“But recently it seems they do not want that. Now we’re the ones requesting jury trial, because we feel there are a lot of viewing issues about what a reasonable person would believe,” said Mr. Taft. “All I can say is that the whole process is quite expenses for legal fees and quite frustrating. I’m not covered by municipal insurance, and my legal fees are not covered by the district. This is coming out of my own pockets.”
Mr. Taft declined to offer much in the way of speculation on whether or not the timing of the lawsuit was intentionally aimed by Mr. Kazakoff to have an effect on the upcoming provincial election in May, but did say “it feels like it”, acknowledging that not only will the case likely result in a dose of negative publicity, but will also tie him up and keep him off the campaign trail for a full week at a crucial time.
Mr. Kazakoff has a long history of antagonism with Mr. Taft, stemming from Mr. Taft’s role as District of Invermere mayor and Mr. Kazakoff’s longtime opposition to the district’s efforts to manage its urban deer population through deer culls.
The district has had an operational urban deer cull in place since 2014, following a 2013 referendum that indicated more than 70 per cent of Invermere residents were in favour of culling to control deer numbers. The cull typically sees up to 20 deer a year killed, and the district has also been involved in an ongoing East Kootenay pilot urban deer translocation study, which saw 13 deer moved from Invermere in 2016.
“We’re still open to other ideas, such as researching birth control methods,” said Mr. Taft.
The deer cull typically runs from December through March each year.