Six friends who went paddleboarding and camped on the West Coast Trail without a permit when it was closed by COVID restrictions last summer have been fined and ordered to publish an apology article approved by Parks Canada.
All six men — Jonathan Burak, Tim Emmett, Dennis Flett, Jake Humphrey, Todd Lawson and James Martinello — had their paddleboards seized and were charged under Canada’s National Parks Act.
On Friday, they appeared by phone and by video in Western Communities provincial court and pleaded guilty to illegally entering and camping in the park without a permit between May 30 and June 1, 2021.
Federal prosecutor Ian McFadgen told the court that park wardens at Pacific Rim National Park learned that a group of men were on the West Coast Trail without the required permits. Permits weren’t being issued at the time because of COVID, he said.
On May 30, two wildlife conflict staff found the men and spoke to them. Park wardens left Ucluelet the next morning and found the group. They stopped them, seized their paddleboards and told them they had illegally entered the national park and illegally camped due to lack of permits.
“They said they hadn’t appreciated that the park was closed. They said because they were on the water, in their view, they weren’t actually in the national park,” said McFagden. “That’s an incorrect understanding. The national park goes out in the nearby water portion of the park.”
Parks Canada was particularly concerned because this was in the midst of COVID and the Dididaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations were worried about the risk of transmission, he said.
Burak’s lawyer Greg Diamond said this was not an intentional or reckless act of disobeying the laws in place at the time or disrespecting First Nations.
Burak is married, has two sons and met his friends — “his co-accused” — through his love of outdoor recreation and adventure, said Diamond.
“Mr. Burak wants to teach his kids respect for nature and respect for the environment and proper ethical practices of the outdoors,” said Diamond. “Which makes the situation all the more humiliating and upsetting to him because he’s not setting the right example for his children. He’s talked to his children about it and, of course, they were shocked, because that’s not the person they see as their father. But they’re seeing it as a teaching lesson.”
Burak is also teaching his children to acknowledge when you make a mistake and make it right.
The group came up with the plan to go to the West Coast Trail some time ago. With activities curtailed and businesses quiet, it seemed like the right time to go on an adventure, said Diamond.
“The biggest mistake they made was thinking that because they were camping on a beach below the high tide level, that was legal. However, that general rule does not apply to a park reserve,” he said.
The men are all very remorseful and were quite shocked and humbled by being arrested, taken to the parks station, going through the court process and having their boards seized, said Diamond.
Judge Ron Webb accepted a joint submission to fine all the men except Emmett $1,750 to be paid within a year. Emmett, who had a prior allegation of being in Nahanni National Park without a permit, has been given three years to pay $3,500.
“I accept very much that it’s a mistake, rather than anything intentional. It’s a learning experience. None of you strike me as bad people or as criminals or as people that were doing anything intentionally wrong,” said the judge.
Webb made an order prohibiting the men from publishing anything about their trip. A second order requires them to publish an apology article, approved by Parks Canada, in Mountain Life Magazine in the next year. Parks Canada will also be able to publish the apology article up to three times in the next year.
Parks Canada is now prepared to return the men’s paddleboards.
“I can tell all of you as well, I am familiar with Mountain Life Magazine. … I like the magazine and I have three boys in their 20s and when this story is passed to them, I’m going to be the bad guy,” the judge laughed.