Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Trial of Five Begins

On October 18th, 2007, the trial of five seal watchers began in the Amherst courtroom, on the Magdalen Islands. The trial was presided over by his Honour Judge Jean-Paul Dècoste. The government of Canada, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) took five of seven seal observers to court after completing an investigating that took over six months to complete. The incident occurred when seven seal observers from the Humane Society of the Untied States (HSUS) were charged for allegedly coming too close to a sealing vessel, violating the conditions of their observer permits, on March 26th, 2006.

The trial began with the Crown witness, Officer Jean-François Sylvestre taking the stand to relate his observations of the incident. The prosecuting attorney, Denis Lavoie asked numerous questions pertaining to the activities of the day and to the eventual arrest of the seven individuals.

A call on March 26 was made by VHF radio from Sealer Captain Jeremy Cyr, to the DFO, saying that watchers were interfering with one of the sealers, his crew and his boat, the Marika Sandrine. An agent, Officer Sylvester from the department had been dispatched, along with another officer, to the sealer’s boat. They had carefully watched the proceedings from the cabin for a period of 40 to 50 minutes, that same afternoon.

Officer Sylvestre explained how he had met with the seal observers on the morning in question and had verified who they were and that they had the legal permits to observe the hunt. He also noted the two zodiacs that would be used in the activities, including taking note of their approximate size. Later, after receiving the call to investigate the complaint from Captain Cyr, Mr. Sylvestre and the other officer, donned life jackets, which hid their uniforms from view and boarded the sealers boat, which was southeast of Iles de la Madeleine in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

While on the stand, Officer Sylvestre explained that the two zodiacs, though constantly on the move because of a number of conditions, entered the area of the Marika Sandrine, within the allowed space of ten-meters according to the observers permits. The zodiacs were both approximately 20 feet long and at times water could not be seen between the zodiac and the Marika Sandrine. One zodiac, the black one was near the bow of the sealer boat and the red was at the just off the stern.

Crewman sealer, Ghislain Langford went on the ice, after the seal. Using a hakapik (traditional legal weapon of choice) to kill the seal, he then hauled the animal back to the Marika Sandrine. The observers had their zodiacs within the 10-meter range and were photographing the kill with still and video cameras. Once the seal was brought aboard the boat, Officer Sylvestre came to check to make certain it was a legal kill. With confirmation he waved to the seal observers to come and check the kill. Upon confirming a legal kill with the observers, the officer then proceeded to arrest four people from one zodiac and three others from the second zodiac. After reading them their rights, he cited that they were in violation of their permits.

Five of the seven accused are: Rebecca Aldworth, of Newfoundland, Andrew Plumbly (Canadian), Chad Sisneros (American), Pierre Grzybowski (American) and Mark Glover (British) were present in the courthouse to face the charges. The Crown attorney decided not to call on two other. His Honour Judge Dècoste fixed the next date of the trial to be continued on May 6th to 9th, 2008, when the defendants side will be heard. The defendant legal council, Clayton Ruby is expected to call two experts on video extracts, to the witness stand, to prove his clients innocence. The Crown attorney claimed that he had only received the new information from the defense, the evening before and had not had the time to examine the reports of these expert witnesses, thus delaying the conclusion of the trial. As of this time, it is uncertain whether or not these seal observers will be allowed to renew their observation permits for the 2008 seal hunt.

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