YARMOUTH - A case that has been before the court for 10 years ended in a conviction and a $100 fine for a Metis man.
But for the sides involved, this case was never about the ultimate penalty attached to the charge, which is why the defence was already talking about an appeal before leaving the courthouse.
In October 2003, Jack Hatfield, of Cape Sable Island, Shelburne County, shot a buck north of French Lake, Yarmouth County. He claimed then, and he continues to believe now, that his Metis heritage allows him to hunt outside of provincially-set hunting seasons. He said he was backed up by a 2003 Supreme Court of Canada ruling recognizing Metis rights to hunt or fish without a licence, regardless of the season.
The case, which has been inching its way through the court since 2004, has been described as a test case.
But in a written decision handed down on April 28, Judge Robert Prince determined that Hatfield cannot claim that his Aboriginal right is constitutionally protected. For this to be the case Hatfield needed to tie his ancestry to a community that existed before effective European control, the court determined. Based on the evidence presented in this case, the judge ruled that 1670 was the date of effective European control in Nova Scotia, and concluded that the community Hatfield ties his heritage to didn‚Äôt arrive in Cape Sable Island until nearly 100 years later.
‚ÄúThe thing that everybody has to remember is this (court decision) doesn‚Äôt change anything for Mr. Hatfield. What it does is says that the community that he identified with did not exist at the time of effective European control. His ancestral heritage is still there. He still can claim to be Metis, but small ‚Äėm‚Äô Metis, rather than capital ‚ÄėM,‚Äô‚ÄĚ said Crown attorney James Clarke. ‚ÄúHe can still claim who he is and go about his daily life claiming his Aboriginal ancestry or mixed heritage. His rights are just not protected by the constitution.‚ÄĚ
In speaking about the evidence that the defence had presented in its case, Judge Prince wrote in his decision that ‚Äúit was often difficult to determine whether the evidence was oral history, garnered from a website or some other source not specifically mentioned. I assess that it was a blend. There was very little evidence with respect to sources consulted and their quality.‚ÄĚ
Much of the evidence by the Crown and defence in this case had been presented to the court in 2006, according to Clarke. He said at that time the case had been adjourned as the defence intended to call more evidence.
‚ÄúThey decided in 2012 they weren‚Äôt going to call any further evidence, so that‚Äôs six years waiting for them to put together some evidence,‚ÄĚ said Clarke, when asked about the lengthy passage of time in the court for this case. After this, he said, the Crown called its expert witnesses.
Hatfield has 30 days to file an appeal.