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B.C. woman successfully appeals $60K fine for attracting, feeding bears

A black bear walks across the ground in Lyme, N.H., on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter) A black bear walks across the ground in Lyme, N.H., on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
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A B.C. woman who was fined $60,000 for attracting black bears to her property and feeding them bulk produce has successfully appealed the steep financial penalty.

On Dec. 1, Zuzana Stevikova was ordered to pay a reduced fine of $10,500, according to a court decision posted online Friday.

The province's Supreme Court found the judge who handed down the original sentence was wrong to impose a fine nearly six times as large as the one recommended in a joint submission by Crown counsel and the defense.

THE OFFENCES

The case against Stevikova dates back to the summer of 2018, the court heard, when the BC Conservation Officer Service received an anonymous complaint that someone had been feeding bears on a Whistler property "for a considerable amount of time."

When officers visited, they saw a mother bear in the driveway and two cubs in a nearby tree, according to an agreed statement of facts presented at Stevikova's initial sentencing hearing,

"The bear was approaching the house with caution and appeared habituated to people," the court documents say. 

An attempt to "haze" the adult bear was unsuccessful but all three of the animals were taken off of the property after being tranquilized. The bears were euthanized because the BCCOS determined they had become too habituated to people, too reliant on humans for food, and ultimately posed a "public safety risk."

THE GUILTY PLEA

In 2021, Stevikova pleaded guilty to two offences under the province's Wildlife Act. The BCCOS' investigation had found evidence she fed the bears over two summers, including that she had purchased "10 cases of apples, 50 pounds of carrots and pears, and up to 15 dozen eggs - all on a weekly basis." Bear excrement found on the property was consistent with the animals having eaten at least some of these foods.

In addition, the court heard, she admitted to feeding the bears and naming at least one of them, saying she did so because "she felt the bears needed help, looked skinny and she was concerned for their welfare."

THE ORIGINAL SENTENCE

The main reasons for the harsh penalty imposed, according to the sentencing judge, were the deliberate and repeated nature of the offences and the risk posed to both the bears and the public.

For attracting dangerous wildlife to her property, Stevikova was ordered to pay a $500 fine and make a donation of $34,500 to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. For feeding dangerous wildlife, she was ordered to pay a $500 fine and make a $24,500 donation to the same charity.

THE REDUCED SENTENCE

Justice J. Miriam Gropper, in striking down the initial penalty, said overriding a joint submission on sentencing can only be done in narrow circumstances.

The legal threshold for doing so is that a judge finds the proposal "so unhinged from the circumstances of the offence and the offender" that it would cause reasonable, objective observers to "believe that the proper functioning of the justice system had broken down."

Gropper found that the strict criteria was not met in the case.

Further, Gropper said the sentence was not a fit one given the circumstances.

"The sentencing judge has erred in principle by employing irrelevant factors and overemphasizing relevant factors," the decision reads, saying one thing the sentencing judge repeatedly overemphasized was the "foreseeability of the bears being euthanized."

In addition to not fitting the circumstances of the particular case, Gropper found the sentence was out of line with the range of sentences imposed in other, similar cases.

The decision means Stevikova will pay a $500 fine and make a $3,000 donation as a penalty for attracting the bears, and a $500 fine and a $6,500 donation for feeding them.

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