While a recent ruling by the provincial court found Vincent Charles Prince and Russel Keith Prince guilty of obstructing a fishery officer, they were however absolved of the other charges against them.
The pair had also been charged with breaches of the Fisheries Act by illegally fishing for, catching, possessing and retaining sockeye salmon during a closed period. The two claimed they had no idea there was a closure, and had reasonable grounds to believe they were fishing legally.
Honourable Associate Chief Judge M. J. Brecknell did find the two men guilty of obstructing a fishery officer by preventing the officer from seizing fishing gear and found Russel Prince guilty of a second count of obstructing a fishery officer for refusing to identify himself, but agreed with the two men they did not know they were fishing during a closure.
The incident in question took place on July 21, 2006 on Stuart Lake, near Fort St. James.
That day, the men had been fishing to provide food for three wakes which were going on in the community at the time.
Vincent Prince said he had discussed the need to provide fish for the wakes with then Nak’azdli Band Chief Thomas.
While fishing on July 21, 2006, the two men were stopped by three fisheries officers , Phillip Taylor, David Reedman and Daniel Tomlinson and told they were in violation of a fishing closure.
According to the written ruling, a tense confrontation ensued and eventually the fish were taken, photographed and turned over to the community elders for use at the wakes.
The two accused were not arrested at the time, but were arrested later.
The ruling also stated there was no evidence presented the fisheries officers checked to see if the Licence or Amendment closing the fishing were posted in any public area at Nak’azdli.
In an interview, Vincent Prince maintains the fisheries officers were not doing their jobs by not notifying fishermen properly of a closure.
In the case he had known of a closure, Vincent Prince said he would have followed the proper procedures.
“I knew the process,” said Prince. “I knew that if there was a closure and I needed fish I could have went there and got a ceremonial licence and I would have been able to fish, no big deal, but there was no closure.”
Both Chief Thomas and Vincent Prince testified they did not recall seeing any posted closures.
The judge ruled that the fisheries officers had every right to seize the nets of the accused because they believed a violation had occurred but also that the accused honestly believed they were legally fishing.
The judge further ruled that under the Fisheries Act, Russell Prince should have provided his name and both Russell and Vincent Prince should have surrendered their nets, so they were guilty of obstructing fisheries officers.
In an interview, Vincent Prince said he has lost respect for the fisheries officers because of this incident, and after the four and a half year ordeal of the legal battle, he will no longer be willing to discuss fish runs and returns with the fisheries officers, information he used to share from his extensive fishing for the community.
“To hell with them, they get nothing from me,” said Prince.
He felt the ruling vindicated himself and his brother Russell because it showed the fisheries officers had not made people aware of the closure.
“We went there for four and a half years and stood up for our rights and made them do their job,” he said.
Fisheries officers did not respond to requests for an interview by press time.