By Joshua Estabrooks
A group of deer lovers has taken legal action to halt the cull of 100 of Invermere’s urban deer population.
Opponents to the cull succeeded in putting a temporary stop to the cull process last week, when they served an injunction from the Supreme Court to the district that prevents the cull from going ahead until at least February 24th.
The injunction was sought by and successfully granted to the Invermere Deer Protection Organization, a group of residents opposed to the cull. The organization, along with Invermere resident Shane Suman, are the official names on the court documents.
The injunction is part of a larger lawsuit which is challenging the validity of two bylaws, passed in August of 2011 and January of 2012, the first authorizing the cull to go ahead and the second hiring the contractor to carry out the cull, said Vancouver-based lawyer Rebeka Breder of Boughton Law Corporation, who will be representing the Invermere Deer Protection Organization.
Damages for nuisance are also being sought by a number of those opposed, as the impending cull has allegedly caused some residents a significant amount of distress, the effects of which include sleeplessness, loss of appetite, nightmares, and in some cases symptoms of secondary trauma effect.
The bylaw challenges are based on the opinion that council did not consult with the public enough prior to making their decision, and that the bylaws were passed based on insufficient information and possibly even just copied from the processes that took place in Kimberley and Cranbrook, both towns where deer culls were recently completed, Ms. Breder said.
“Animal cruelty is a part we are looking into as well,” she added. “There is definitely a potential for the argument that the district is in violation of cruelty legislation, whether it’s the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act or the Wildlife Act,” she said.
The injunction was personally delivered to the district office on Thursday, February 9th, by spokesman for the Invermere Deer Protection Organization, Vince Zurbriggen, who said that he feels the conclusions reached by the original deer committee were not based on accurate, factual information.
“The deer committee should be people who know and have the expertise to advise council. They were supposed to investigate what can be done but they didn’t. They went for the easiest solution, which is a cull,” Mr. Zurbriggen said.
Also speaking against the cull, resident Shane Suman said that he feels a cull should be the last resort, not the first strategy adopted by the district in response to the deer issue.
“We said killing the deer is an irreversible solution. Once it is done you can’t bring them back. We have been living with them for decades, so we asked for a temporary stop to it,” he said.
“We’re not asking for a permanent cancellation or anything, so we can get together as a whole community and address the issues that people bring up. We know there are problems — people talk about aggressive deer or deer sometimes eating plantations and vegetable gardens — and we are willing to listen to the concerns and find solutions to the concerns,” he added.
By his interpretation of the results from a survey that was conducted in Invermere to gather public opinion about the deer cull, Mr. Suman said he believes that people want solutions, but they don’t want the deer killed carte blanche.
“They want solutions. How the problem is solved is not their concern, they just want a solution to the problem,” Mr. Suman said. “We are looking for something that is cost-effective, something that will be more permanent and long-term and something the whole community can feel united about and not divided.”
Explaining why he got involved in the issue, Mr. Suman said he and his wife, Monie, moved to the valley a year-and-a-half ago, and were instantly enamoured with the deer that live within the town.
He acknowledged that he is the same Shane Suman who was recently found guilty, along with his wife, of insider trading by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and ordered to pay over $4 million dollars in fines and profits, but stated that the issues are completely unrelated, and he has nothing to hide in relation to the case.
Mr. Suman is also the driving force behind a Facebook group dedicated to opposing the cull, so he said if he was trying to hide from his other legal troubles he wouldn’t be putting himself out there in the public eye.
“I am here, everyone knows where I am and if someone was trying to get away they wouldn’t be exposing themselves like this,” Mr. Suman said.
The ultimate goal of the injunction and lawsuit isn’t simply to stall the process until the permit issued by the province runs out on March 15th, he said. If the district wants to come back to the discussion table, the Invermere Deer Protection Organization would be willing to end the court battle.
“Going to the court was our last option,” Mr. Suman said. “We have tried every other avenue to convince mayor and council to put a temporary halt [to the cull] so we have time to negotiate, discuss and find a solution outside of court, but it is their stubbornness and refusal to discuss anything other than killing the deer which forced us to go down this path.
“If at any time the district wants to talk to us we are open and we are going to go back to our original proposal. We can discuss solutions and come together as a community.”
In terms of the case itself, the challenge could be the first of its kind in the province, and possibly even Canada, Ms. Breder said. As of press time she had not yet met with the district’s counsel, who were not consulted prior to the injunction being filed.
If the district were to be successful in having the injunction removed, there would be an opportunity to appeal the decision. As well, the lawsuit could take months to resolve.
The district’s court costs will come out of taxpayer’s pockets, while costs for retaining the lawyer for the Invermere Deer Protection Organization, which could reach upwards of tens of thousands of dollars, will be paid for out of the pockets of the members of the organization, Mr. Suman said.
Responding to the injunction, the District of Invermere are engaging their regular lawyers from Vancouver-based firm, Young Anderson, and are unable to comment in too much detail while the court battle is taking place, Mayor Gerry Taft said.
“Basically, we’re looking to have the injunction set aside. That’s our immediate goal. A lot of their claims I really question and I am quite troubled with some of the things they brought up. I think some of their statements are bordering on slanderous and in some cases are inaccurate,” Mr. Taft said.
“It’s a challenge because the petition, and the petitioners, are 14 people, and it’s frustrating that 14 people could have such a huge influence on a decision. Hopefully it doesn’t result in a lot of legal costs. It is disappointing.”
Mayor Taft added that council has yet to receive any official communication from the Invermere Deer Protection Organization expressing a desire to work together.
“From my personal perspective, when you sue the town and make a lot of claims, that’s not a sign of wanting to work together,” he said.