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B.C. judge finds man guilty of killing black bear and cub near Tofino

A black bear and a cub are seen in this undated stock image. (Shutterstock) A black bear and a cub are seen in this undated stock image. (Shutterstock)
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A British Columbia provincial court judge has found a Tofino man guilty of illegally killing a black bear and her cub, despite arguing he only shot one bear in self-defence.

After a three-day trial, Judge Alexander Wolf found Ryan Owen Millar guilty of one count of killing a black bear outside of hunting season, and one count of killing a black bear younger than two years old.

A witness testified that he and his wife were visiting Tofino on Oct. 14, 2021, relaxing in the hot tub of their Airbnb rental, when they heard a commotion from the neighbouring property.

The man testified the couple saw two black bears, one larger than the other, approximately four and a half metres up a tree.

The couple got out of the hot tub to take up a better viewing position inside the home. That's when the couple noticed a man in the neighbouring property was also watching the bears.

The witness testified that he saw the man, who he identified as Millar, retrieve a longbow and a crossbow, before putting an arrow in the longbow and pointing it up at the tree.

The witness told the judge the man fired and hit the smaller bear, which fell out of the tree. He said he was about to yell, "What the hell are you doing?" at the man, but before he could, Millar walked over to the wounded bear and shot it with the crossbow.

The second bear "just looked on" from the tree, the witness said, before Millar "loaded the longbow again, and took another shot, and the second bear fell out of the tree."

The man testified the wounded bear tried to escape before Millar shot it again.

The witness recorded video of Millar grabbing the small bear by the scruff and putting it under a tarp, the judge wrote in his decision on June 6.

The witness called the police and said an officer attended the residence but left soon after.

A short while later, a white diesel truck pulled into the home where the bears were shot, according to the witness. He testified that a "bunch of hunting gear and weapons were being removed from the residence" and put into the vehicle, along with the carcass of the small bear.

The witness and his wife did not feel safe at the rental and decided to leave, he said.

Millar, who appeared in court without a lawyer, did not challenge the witness's account and did not provide any evidence on his own behalf.

Instead, he suggested there was sufficient evidence in the Crown's case to support his claim that he "may have killed a bear but that it was in self-defence," the judge wrote.

CONFLICTING ACCOUNTS

The first RCMP officer on scene that day testified that spoke to Millar at the home and asked if he knew anything about a bear being shot, to which Millar responded he "didn't know anything about it," the court heard.

"If you have shot a bear you should tell me," the officer said later, to which Millar responded there was, in fact, a bear in the area but he scared it away.

"He told me he had a haunch of meat on his property and he was worried about his dogs getting hurt," the Mountie testified, noting Millar told him "he tried to scare it off, but it didn't react to his presence," so he shot it with his bow.

Millar again denied ever seeing a second bear.

A conservation officer attended the home to question Millar. The officer told the court he could see a dead bear in the water behind the home and decided to come back the next morning when the tide was low to retrieve the animal.

When conservation officers came back to load the bear into their truck and take it to a forensic veterinarian, Millar gave a formal statement that again denied there was a second bear, the court heard.

Millar instead gave conflicting accounts about either leaving deer meat outside on a table or inside a cooler in a locked shed. The first conservation officer on scene noted deer meat hanging outside the house.

Millar told officers a "bear had grabbed the hind quarters" of the meat, so he told his "kids to get into the house," according to the statements provided to officers later that evening.

He told one conservation officer he grabbed his bow "for defence" because "I don't know if it's the same bear but there has been a problem bear all year around that has bluff charged me."

He said he saw the bear "standing over the meat" so he yelled and "started throwing rocks." He said bear "slashed" at him and so he "let an arrow loose, um, and it stopped charging," describing the incident as a "near-death experience."

Millar said the bear was on the ground, not in a tree. He said he is a wildlife guide and has spent a lot of time with bears. He said the bear looked like one that had charged at him a month earlier and killed one of his ducks. He twice asked officers if he could keep the bear meat and its hide.

'IT WAS NOT A FAIR HUNT'

Dr. Caeley Thacker, a wildlife veterinarian for the B.C. Fish and Wildlife Branch, testified that a necropsy on the larger bear found it was a female bear that was lactating and had died after it was shot with four arrows. At least one of the arrow wounds was consistent with it being shot while the bear was in an elevated position, such as in a tree.

She said that based on her expertise, there would have been small bear cub under the age of 12 months with the sow.

While the carcass of the bear cub was not recovered, and Millar denied its existence, the judge concluded "without any doubt" based on the expert testimony and the witness video, "that there was another smaller bear cub present and killed as well."

The judge ultimately found Millar's version of events was "fabricated," noting there was "absolutely no attempt to minimize the harm caused. Mr. Millar simply wanted to kill the two bears, and that is what he did."

"It was not a fair hunt," the judge added. "It was not an ethical hunt. For our purposes in this trial, I conclude and find as a matter of fact it was not a legal hunt. It appears to me that Mr. Millar's only regret is that he was caught on film and seen by two witnesses."

Millar is scheduled to be sentenced in Tofino court in September.

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