MWF Reminds Minister Moses on his Responsibility to Safeguard the Right to Hunt for All Manitobans

On July 5th, 2024, MWF staff met with legal counsel regarding the government’s pending decision on the allocation of resident licenses for the 2024 big game draw in northern Manitoba. While no official announcements have been made by government yet, the delay and recent conversations have raised concerns that the government could decide to issue fewer licenses than previous years, or fewer than what was promised when hunters initially applied for the 2024 draw. 

MWF legal counsel sent a letter to Minister Jamie Moses on Monday outlining MWF’s position and emphasizing the government’s responsibility to safeguard all Manitobans’ rights to hunt.” 

July 8, 2024

Dear Minister Moses,

Re: The 2024 Manitoba Resident Big Game Elk Draw & Moose Draw (the “Draw”)

We are legal counsel for the Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF). We write with respect to your decision as to the number of licences to be issued for moose through this year’s draw, and further to your recent conversations on this subject with the MWF’s Senior Policy Advisor, Chris Heald. The MWF is concerned that you are considering a decision to issue fewer licenses than was promised for the Draw and than were available in previous years. Such a reversal on the government’s part would be unreasonable and unlawful, and contrary to the principles of conservation and reconciliation. We urge you to stay the course and to issue the number of licences promised to Manitoba residents. 

The MWF is Manitoba’s oldest and largest conservation organization, representing more than 15,000 members in approximately 100 affiliated organization across Manitoba. We are the voice or Manitoba’s licensed hunters and anglers. Our founding objectives include the protection of the environment and wildlife populations, and the promotion of safe and ethical hunting. The MWF’s mandate includes engaging in litigation in furtherance of these objectives, where necessary.

In recent weeks, the government has not been transparent as to its plans for the Draw. The details available to the public are as follows:

  • Months ago, the government released its application guide for the Draw, in which it set out the number of moose licenses available in each Game Hunting Area (GHA) and solicited applications by May 31, 2024. The number of moose licences available for each GHA in 2024 was consistent with the number in recent years. Manitobans submitted their applications, and paid the fee, in reliance on the information in this application guide. The guide promised that the results of the Draw would be available on June 21, 2024.
  • On June 17, 2024, government representatives, including yourself and Premier Kinew, met with representatives of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO). According to the MKO, at this meeting MKO representatives demanded that the government immediately terminate the draw for Manitoba resident hunter licences.
  • On June 20, 2024, applicants received an email from the government’s eLicensing system, notifying them that the results of the Draw will be delayed and will be shared by July 12, 2024. No explanation was provided.
  • In a news story posted by CBC on June 25, 2024, you were quoted as saying that the government is “reassessing to make sure that there’s going to be a proper amount of [moose and elk] populations to allow that those draws to go ahead.” You reportedly refused to answer when CBC asked if the delay will result in Manitoba issuing fewer hunting licences.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from the foregoing is that the Government of Manitoba is resiling from its decision as to the number of licences to be issued through the Draw based on demands made by the MKO. This is not a lawful approach. 

MKO is a self-described political advocacy organization, not a rights-holding group. Further, the MKO is advancing an interpretation of Aboriginal treaty rights that is plainly inconsistent with the jurisprudence. The position set out in the MKO’s statement of June 25, 2024, for example, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the law. In particular, the MKO seeks to convert (A) the notion of priority within the justification analysis for a regulation that directly affected an Aboriginal right to harvest to (B) a free-standing “right of top priority” requiring the limitation of non-Indigenous harvest in circumstances where there are no regulated limits on the treaty rights in question. There is no legal support for this position.

There is also no factual support for a decision to issue fewer moose licences to Manitoba residents through the Draw. While the MKO asserts that all the moose in various GHAs are required for food and ceremonial purposes, and that there are insufficient moose to support non-Indigenous hunting, we are not aware of any evidence that has been provided in support of these statements. More broadly, we are not aware of any evidence supporting the reduction in non-Indigenous moose harvesting that you appear to be considering. 

Further, even if the government were in possession of evidence supporting a reduction in non-Indigenous moose hunting licenses, the reasonable answer would not be a unilateral and rushed decision to reduce the number of licenses available for Manitoba residents. The answer would be to engage in consultation with all those affected, and the first licenses to reduce would be the non-resident and foreign resident licenses. Your government has an obligation to protect all Manitobans’ right to hunt.

As you are doubtlessly aware, governmental decisions must comply with their attendant legal and factual constraints in order to be reasonable and lawful. Given the context described above, any decision to reduce the number of moose licences available through the Draw would be unreasonable. Such a decision would also be palpably unfair, given the legitimate expectations created by the government’s previous announcements and the complete absence of transparency and process in recent weeks. We expect that we will receive instructions to bring an application for judicial review if the government decides to reduce the number of moose licences issued through the Draw in any significant way, and we are confident that such application would be successful. 

The MWF recognizes and respects the importance of Indigenous harvesting rights. As the Supreme Court of Canada has said, the “fundamental objective of the modern law of aboriginal and treaty rights is the reconciliation of aboriginal peoples and non-aboriginal peoples and their respective claims, interests and ambitions.” The path to reconciliation does not lie in giving in to the demands and assertions of one side (to the extent that the MKO’s position actually reflects that of Indigenous rights-holders), but rather in considered and evidence-based decision-making that is fair to all stakeholders. 

The MWF would be glad to discuss these matters further, and to assist in developing a more rigorous and evidence-based process for these licensing decisions going forward. One that has proper regard not only for Indigenous harvesting rights, but also for all Manitobans’ right to hunt, and for the critical role that hunting plays in Manitoba’s social, cultural, and economic fabric.

Yours very truly,

Lawson Lundell LLP

Jonathan Andrews
(204) 633-5967 / (877) 633-4868
4-999 King Edward Street
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3H 0R1