ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — National Hockey League player Clayton Stoner is banned from hunting for three years and must pay $10,000 for killing a grizzly bear on British Columbia's central coast.
The Anaheim Ducks defenceman admitted through his lawyer on Wednesday that he had breached the provincial Wildlife Act. Marvin Stern said his client mistakenly believed he was qualified to participate.
Stoner wasn't in the Abbotsford, B.C., court, instead, Stern pleaded guilty on his behalf to hunting without a licence.
In handing down the fine and hunting ban, provincial court Judge Brent Hoy accepted that Stoner thought he was qualified as a resident, but the law had still been breached.
NHL defenceman Clayton Stoner has pleaded guilty to unlawfully killing a B.C. grizzly. (Photo: Centrak Coast First Nations Working Group)
"If one hunts, then one must do so responsibly,'' he said when handing down his sentence.
The Crown dropped four other charges against Stoner, including knowingly making a false statement to obtain a hunting licence, hunting out of season, and unlawfully possessing dead wildlife.
Stoner was charged in connection to the hunt in May 2013.
The case first gained media attention when graphic photos were published of Stoner holding up a bear's severed head. First Nations and environmentalists claimed the animal was Cheeky, a star tourist attraction in B.C.'s Great Bear Rainforest.
"His untimely death due to Mr. Stoner's unlawful actions has caused us significant harm."
But after he was charged, Stoner, 30, requested a DNA test on the bear. The B.C. Conservation Officer Service conducted the tests and determined the animal was 18 years old, not the five-year-old Cheeky, Stern told the court.
Stoner has been vilified in the media in both Canada and the United States, Stern said.
"It clearly wasn't Cheeky.''
Outside the court, representatives of the area First Nations and a conservation group still maintained that the deceased bear was Cheeky. They said they may have been mistaken on the popular bear's age, noting guardians had witnessed Stoner interact with Cheeky within hours before the kill.
Stern told the court his client simply made an error and believed he had lawfully obtained the licence. He said the residency requirements are convoluted — to obtain a commercial trophy licence, a hunter must reside in B.C. for at least half of each of six months in the previous year.
Stoner is originally from Port McNeill on Vancouver Island. (Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
"This is a very unique definition, you won't find it under the Income Tax Act or other provincial or federal legislation,'' Stern told court.
He added that Stoner, who's originally from Port McNeill on Vancouver Island, owns a home in Langford, B.C., spends weeks during off-season at his family home, does some of his training in Victoria and eventually intends to retire back to Vancouver Island.
"From his perspective, he's a B.C. guy.''
He said the loss of hunting privileges for Stoner is significant, because the man has been hunting since he was 10 years old.
Clayton Stoner arrives for the game during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo: Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty)
In the days after Stoner's picture with the bear's head surfaced, he defended the hunting trip he took with his father, and uncle and a friend.
B.C.'s Conservation Officer Service announced the charges last September, explaining Stoner did not meet residency requirements when he played for the Minnesota Wild. Stoner had applied for his hunting licence in Port McNeill.
Crown lawyer Jim Cryder told the court there is a very strict definition of resident under the act.
"For an NHL player ... they're going to be out of the province for at least seven months,'' Cryder told the court. "He hasn't in fact qualified as a resident.''
Bear's death caused 'significant harm'
Brian Falconer, with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, read a victim-impact statement in court and said Cheeky was an asset to his group's work.
"He was comfortable being viewed by humans,'' said Falconer.
"His untimely death due to Mr. Stoner's unlawful actions has caused us significant harm, including financial loss, and has been a significant disappointment to our guides and clients.''
Stern told Hoy that his client wasn't opposed to turning over the bear's skull and hide.
The remains are being held by the province. The Crown is not taking a position on the identity of the bear.
William Housty, a spokesman for the Heiltsuk Nation who flew in from Bella Bella, said he was pleased that months of court proceedings had elevated the case to a higher level. He said his Nation felt the consequences for Stoner were fair.
"Rather than put the spotlight on Stoner and Cheeky ... the bigger issues of this hunt are still going on,'' he said.
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