R v Irngaut, 2020 NUCA 4

Application to strike appeal granted. It was determined that the Government of Nunavut did not have standing to launch an appeal for the summary conviction of a respondent who shot a caribou during a harvesting ban.

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The underlying issue in this summary conviction appeal is whether the respondent was entitled to a stay of a charge of unlawfully harvesting a caribou as a result of “officially induced error”. It was determined that the Government of Nunavut did not have standing to launch this appeal as a question of statutory interpretation. Appeals are created by statute and there is no right to appeal unless provided by statute. Although the determination of lack of standing sufficed to strike the appeal, the Court found it necessary to further discuss the substantive issue of what warrants an “officially induced error”, as it is not a defence.

The respondent is a resident of Igloolik, an avid hunter, and a member of the Canadian Rangers. During patrol with other Canadian Rangers, he stopped to camp for the night where Sgt. George Qattalik telephoned his father, Daniel Qattalik, who was an elder and a member of the local Hunters and Trappers Organization. Daniel Qattalik told his son that there was no ban on harvesting caribou in effect who then relayed this to the respondent. The respondent knew that there was a caribou hunting ban in place when he left Igloolik, and was surprised when he was told by the sergeant that his father said that there was no ban in place.

The next day the patrol spotted a herd of caribou. The respondent took at face value the information passed on to him, and shot one of the caribou. The trial judge found that the respondent had acted honestly and reasonably on the erroneous information received, entitling the respondent to raise “officially induced erroras a defence. The trial judge accordingly found that the offence had been proven, but entered a stay (R v Irngaut, 2019 NUCJ 4).

The finding of fact discloses no reviewable error, but the excuse of officially induced error fails on the reasonableness of the reliance on that advice and the official status of the source of the advice. Daniel Qattalik was an elder, which would give his advice social credibility, but that is not the equivalent of “official” status making his advice binding on the government. The Moratorium against caribou hunting was issued by the Minister of Wildlife under the Wildlife Act. Daniel Qattalik had no position with, or authority from, the Department or the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board. There is no evidence that Daniel Qattalik was even asked to provide advice in any official capacity.

In order to make out the excuse of officially induced error, the erroneous advice must usually come from the government agency directly involved in the relevant area of regulation. Further, in order to be “official”, the representation must generally have a level of formality to it. It will rarely be reasonable to rely on casual conversations with officials, particularly those made in an informal social setting (R v Jorgensen, [1995] 4 SCR 55; R v Ralph (2002), 220 Nfld & PEIR 351).