No fishing for another season

Sentencing delayed until January; critic calls James Wadhams's defence “an attempt to justify an illegal activity”

'Gee-alas' aka James Wadhams stands outside Port Coquitlam Provincial Court. The First Nations fisherman was found guilty in July of selling halibut caught under a ceremonial license. He has yet to be sentenced.

James Wadhams furrows his forehead when he thinks of the task ahead of him.

Outside Port Coquitlam Provincial Court, flanked by two supporters, he clutches a file filled with documents no one seems interested in.

“It’s the third time they’ve taken me to court,” says Wadhams, with a sigh.

This time though, he’s putting up a fight.

In court, he went by the name “Gee-alas” – his Kwakiutl name, one which he refused to spell because Kwakwala is only spoken and has no alphabet.

A resident of Port McNeill on Vancouver Island, Wadhams was found guilty in July of illegally selling halibut that had been caught under an aboriginal communal license for food, social, ceremonial purposes to the owners of two fish and chip shops in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

Wadhams hoped he could catch the tail end of the salmon fishing season but those hopes were quashed when sentencing was delayed last week after the Crown prosecutor in charge of his file fell ill.

He’s been asked to return to court in January.

“My life has come to a halt,” says the 61-year-old, who has now filed a request for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to return his confiscated truck, fishing gear and ‘Bella Nova’, his boat.

He also refuses to acknowledge his recent Fisheries Act conviction – the second since 2008.

A proud Kwakiutl, he descends from the Kwakwaka’wakw, who have fished the strait and hunted in the forests of northern Vancouver Island near Port Hardy and Port McNeil for thousands of years.

“The courts have taken my rights away,” says Wadhams, who remembers being carried onto a fishing boat by his grandfather before he could walk.

“I just want my life back.”

Wadhams and his supporters insist the province of British Columbia has no jurisdiction over them.

He reached far back in time, pointing to the Magna Carta, an order by Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702 to 1714, and the Royal Proclamation of 1763 to support his stance.

The Kwakiutl, he argued, had never ceded their land to the British and had every right to make a living through fishing.

Van Gale Dumont or “Ste-emas” is now helping Wadhams take his fight to the federal court.

Nobody has the guts to stand up to these people, says Ste-emas, a member of the Big Stone Cree Band who puffs his chest while holding up the Royal Proclamation.

“The DFO confiscated his truck and boat without good reason. It is an Indian’s way of life: hunting, fishing and trapping and it’s his prerogative whether he wants to sell his game and fish.”

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans began a year-and-a-half-long investigation into two fish and chip shop owners, as well as Wadhams after receiving tips from the public on Vancouver Island.

Surveillance was conducted on Wadhams, who was seen delivering fish to Amy Zhuo Hua Zheng and Michael Kam Fuk Ching, who have since pleaded guilty to the offences.

Ching, who owns Austin Fish and Chips in Valley Fair Mall in Maple Ridge, was fined $5,000 for three Fisheries Act contraventions while Zheng, who owns Austin Fish and Chips in Pitt Meadows, got a $500 fine for two violations.

DFO officials seized Wadhams’ Ford Explorer and fishing boat as part of the investigation.

John Cummins, the leader of B.C. Conservatives and an outspoken critic of the DFO, dismisses Wadhams’ claim of aboriginal rights.

“There is no aboriginal right to a commercial fishery,” said Cummins, citing a court ruling on the salmon fishery in the Fraser River.

“For them to be able to claim that aboriginal right to sell halibut, they would have to demonstrate that they caught and sold halibut prior to contact with Europeans. Show the evidence that it happened.”

Cummins calls Wadhams’ defence “an attempt to justify an illegal activity.”

If the DFO was serious about protecting fisheries, there would be restriction on how much fish could be caught under a ceremonial license.

“If you allow people to catch commercial quantities of fish, then you shouldn’t be surprised that they sell it,” Cummins said.

“There are simply not enough resources dedicated to eradicating these illegal fisheries. You can’t manage the fishery properly when you don’t know what’s being harvested. This destroys everyone’s opportunity to fish.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

QUIZ: Put your knowledge of Canada to the test

How much do you know about our country?

Parking rates increase around Maple Ridge city hall

Construction also begins on a 128-stall commuter parking lot next to the bus exchange

LETTER: Who says which healthcare workers are deserving of top ups

Care aide critical of how province pays special COVID wage increase to public not private workers

We’re wishing you all the best this Canada Day

It’s July 1, and as Canadians we have so much to celebrate

Drive-by music therapy helps those with disabilities in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows

Program run by the Ridge Meadows Association for Community Living

‘This year is unlike any other’: Trudeau delivers Canada day address

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and the Prime Minister release video celebrating the national holiday

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping The News to continue its mission to provide trusted local news

PHOTOS: Dual rallies take over Legislature lawn on Canada Day

Resist Canada 153 highlighted colonization and genocide, Unify the People called COVID a hoax

Gov. General honours Canadians for bravery, volunteer service

Five categories of winners presented on Canada Day

COVID-19: Should non-medical masks be mandatory in Canada?

New poll shows Canadians are divided on the rules around mandatory masks

Northbound lane of Coquihalla closed after vehicle incident near Hope

A northbound lane is closed just north of the Great Bear Snowshed, according to DriveBC

‘A little bit scary for everybody’: Air passengers wary as new rules take effect

Masks or face coverings have been mandatory on flights since April 20

VIDEO: Prince William and Kate chat with B.C. hospital staff about COVID-19

Seven-minute video posted to Youtube on Canada Day

Most Read