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$60K fine for B.C. woman who fed bears was too hefty, appeal court rules

Whistler resident Zuzana Stevikova instead ordered to pay $10,500
A black bear lumbers along the banks of the Sooke River. A Whistler woman pleaded guilty in 2021 to feeding and attracting black bears to her property. (Contributed - Gary Schroyen)

A Whistler woman originally fined $60,000 for feeding and attracting black bears, which were subsequently euthanized, will only have to pay $10,500 following an appeal decision.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Miriam Gropper countered the court’s original findings in her Dec. 1 ruling, calling the $60,000 out of line with similar Wildlife Act cases.

The $10,500 – $1,000 in fines and $9,500 to be contributed to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation – is actually the amount Zuzana Stevikova’s defence team and Crown prosecutors called for through a joint submission when the case was first heard in 2021.

Then, Stevikova pleaded guilty to feeding black bears and leaving out attractants at her Whistler property over the summer of 2018. She also expressed remorse over her actions and made a $5,000 donation to the Great Bear Smart Society.

The judge at the time, Judge Lyndsay Smith, rejected the joint submission, however, arguing that it didn’t go far enough to dissuade similar actions. Her primary argument rested on her stated belief that a Whistler resident should know better.

“I take judicial notice that there is messaging throughout the Town of Whistler communicating clearly that ‘a fed bear is a dead bear,’” Smith wrote in her 2021 decision.

Conservation officers euthanized a mother black bear and two cubs in 2018, after discovering them roaming around Stevikova’s property and determining they were too domesticated. The officers were tipped off to investigate the property by someone who said the owners were regularly feeding bears.

Still, Gropper said in her appeal decision, fed bears aren’t always killed by conservation officers. She said it wasn’t fair of Smith to make that leap.

“…the judge (Smith) appears to impose a sentence to strongly denounce and deter those who might engage in feeding bears at Whistler, without any evidence of the prevalence of such conduct,” Gropper wrote.

Gropper further argued Smith relied on far more extreme case law when determining a fine for Stevikova, including a case where people trafficked in bears parts and another where they intentionally killed them. Gropper said Smith also unfairly chose a higher fine for Stevikova, because of Smith’s belief that Stevikova was fairly wealthy and could afford it.

“She made findings of fact which were not supported by the agreed statement of facts, would be difficult for the Crown to prove, or were not based on evidence but rather her own judicial notice,” Gropper wrote.

She determined the original joint submission should be followed, and fined Stevikova $10,500.

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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media.
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