No fishing for another season

Sentencing delayed until January; critic calls James Wadhams's defence “an attempt to justify an illegal activity”

'Gee-alas' aka James Wadhams stands outside Port Coquitlam Provincial Court. The First Nations fisherman was found guilty in July of selling halibut caught under a ceremonial license. He has yet to be sentenced.

James Wadhams furrows his forehead when he thinks of the task ahead of him.

Outside Port Coquitlam Provincial Court, flanked by two supporters, he clutches a file filled with documents no one seems interested in.

“It’s the third time they’ve taken me to court,” says Wadhams, with a sigh.

This time though, he’s putting up a fight.

In court, he went by the name “Gee-alas” – his Kwakiutl name, one which he refused to spell because Kwakwala is only spoken and has no alphabet.

A resident of Port McNeill on Vancouver Island, Wadhams was found guilty in July of illegally selling halibut that had been caught under an aboriginal communal license for food, social, ceremonial purposes to the owners of two fish and chip shops in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

Wadhams hoped he could catch the tail end of the salmon fishing season but those hopes were quashed when sentencing was delayed last week after the Crown prosecutor in charge of his file fell ill.

He’s been asked to return to court in January.

“My life has come to a halt,” says the 61-year-old, who has now filed a request for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to return his confiscated truck, fishing gear and ‘Bella Nova’, his boat.

He also refuses to acknowledge his recent Fisheries Act conviction – the second since 2008.

A proud Kwakiutl, he descends from the Kwakwaka’wakw, who have fished the strait and hunted in the forests of northern Vancouver Island near Port Hardy and Port McNeil for thousands of years.

“The courts have taken my rights away,” says Wadhams, who remembers being carried onto a fishing boat by his grandfather before he could walk.

“I just want my life back.”

Wadhams and his supporters insist the province of British Columbia has no jurisdiction over them.

He reached far back in time, pointing to the Magna Carta, an order by Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702 to 1714, and the Royal Proclamation of 1763 to support his stance.

The Kwakiutl, he argued, had never ceded their land to the British and had every right to make a living through fishing.

Van Gale Dumont or “Ste-emas” is now helping Wadhams take his fight to the federal court.

Nobody has the guts to stand up to these people, says Ste-emas, a member of the Big Stone Cree Band who puffs his chest while holding up the Royal Proclamation.

“The DFO confiscated his truck and boat without good reason. It is an Indian’s way of life: hunting, fishing and trapping and it’s his prerogative whether he wants to sell his game and fish.”

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans began a year-and-a-half-long investigation into two fish and chip shop owners, as well as Wadhams after receiving tips from the public on Vancouver Island.

Surveillance was conducted on Wadhams, who was seen delivering fish to Amy Zhuo Hua Zheng and Michael Kam Fuk Ching, who have since pleaded guilty to the offences.

Ching, who owns Austin Fish and Chips in Valley Fair Mall in Maple Ridge, was fined $5,000 for three Fisheries Act contraventions while Zheng, who owns Austin Fish and Chips in Pitt Meadows, got a $500 fine for two violations.

DFO officials seized Wadhams’ Ford Explorer and fishing boat as part of the investigation.

John Cummins, the leader of B.C. Conservatives and an outspoken critic of the DFO, dismisses Wadhams’ claim of aboriginal rights.

“There is no aboriginal right to a commercial fishery,” said Cummins, citing a court ruling on the salmon fishery in the Fraser River.

“For them to be able to claim that aboriginal right to sell halibut, they would have to demonstrate that they caught and sold halibut prior to contact with Europeans. Show the evidence that it happened.”

Cummins calls Wadhams’ defence “an attempt to justify an illegal activity.”

If the DFO was serious about protecting fisheries, there would be restriction on how much fish could be caught under a ceremonial license.

“If you allow people to catch commercial quantities of fish, then you shouldn’t be surprised that they sell it,” Cummins said.

“There are simply not enough resources dedicated to eradicating these illegal fisheries. You can’t manage the fishery properly when you don’t know what’s being harvested. This destroys everyone’s opportunity to fish.”

Just Posted

North Island Tour De Rock rider Benjamin Leah leads team to Port Hardy

“You don’t have issues and problems when you look at these kids and how much they’re going through.”

Vancouver Island pharmacist suspended for giving drugs with human placenta

RCMP had samples of the seized substances tested by Health Canada

Fishin’ Corner: Stand up for your fishing rights

“Don’t give in to DFO and their quota bureaucracy that the fish belong to everyone.”

B.C. students send books to displaced students of Hornby Island school fire

Maple Ridge elementary school teacher says students learned about acts of kindness

Get ready for a week of sunshine across Vancouver Island

Environment Canada is forecasting temperatures in the high teens all this week

Video: Flyers new mascot ‘Gritty’ a bearded, googly-eyed terror

The Philadelphia Flyers unveiled their new mascot Monday, and as one would expect of the team that gave us the “Broad Street Bullies,” he’s far from cuddly.

Vancouver Island designated as foreign trade zone

Designation simplifies importing and exporting and provides duty relief

Edmonton cannabis company revenues more than triples to $19.1 million

Aurora Cannabis revenues more than triple in fourth quarter

Seattle one step closer to NHL after arena plan approved

Seattle City Council unanimously approved plans for a privately funded $700 million renovation of KeyArena

Harvest Moon to light up B.C. skies with an ‘autumn hue’

It’s the first moon after the autumn equinox

Hockey league gets $1.4M for assistance program after Humboldt Broncos crash

Program will help players, families, coaches and volunteers after the shock of the deadly crash

Canada has removed six out of 900 asylum seekers already facing U.S. deportation

Ottawa had said the ‘overwhelming majority’ had been removed

North Island Midget Eagles bit by Alberni Valley Bulldogs, hammer Nanaimo Clippers

It was a bit of an up and down rollercoaster ride of a weekend for the North Island Midget Eagles.

Most Read