CBC News: B.C. woman fined $3,500 for leaving out food for animals in Vancouver’s Stanley Park

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“It was never her intention to cause harm to the Stanley Park ecosystem,” – Rob Dhanu

Kemthong Clasby and Terence Lee Clasby were arrested in September 2021 by B.C. conservation officers

A B.C. woman is facing $3,500 in fines for leaving out food in Vancouver’s Stanley Park that could have attracted coyotes.

Kemthong Clasby, 78, and Terence Lee Clasby, 75, were arrested by conservation officers in September 2021, a day after the park fully reopened to the public following a two-week nighttime closure to cull aggressive coyotes.

The B.C. Prosecution Service laid charges in October of that year under sections of the B.C. Wildlife Act related to leaving or placing attractants for dangerous wildlife.

From December 2020 to August 2021, 45 people reported being bitten by coyotes in the park, with experts arguing that the animals’ habituation to humans was a factor in the attacks.

The fines ordered by Judge James Sutherland came after Kemthong Clasby pleaded guilty to one of the charges.

“Her actions were intentional at every step and she needs to be held accountable for that,” he said. “I also have to accept … that she perhaps lacked awareness and the significance of the coyote-human interaction taking place in Stanley Park.”

Of the fine, $2,500 will go as a donation to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

For the past two and a half years the Clasbys were under bail conditions to stay out of Stanley Park. They also could not have food that could attract dangerous wildlife while in any park.

In addition to the four counts in relation to Stanley Park, they also faced another charge for similar activities in Burnaby.

Ultimately, the charges against Terence Clasby were stayed. The court heard submissions that leaving food in Stanley Park was his wife’s idea, with Terence simply helping to enact her plans.

Tracking the Clasbys

In the late summer and fall of 2021, people in the park reported a couple carrying food, such as dog biscuits, bread and bird seed into Stanley Park.

On several occasions, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service documented the Clasbys carrying and leaving food in the park.

They also observed the couple carrying food into the park while walking by a sign warning visitors not to leave out food or garbage that could attract animals, such as coyotes.

Officers seized the Clasbys’ vehicle at the time of arrest and recorded 63 kilograms of dog biscuits, bread and bird seed, the court heard.

A month after the arrest, their vehicle was seized a second time when the couple was found buying dog food at a Walmart in Burnaby and then walking across the street and leaving food at Cameron Park.

The court heard through the Clasbys’ lawyer, Rob Dhanu, that Kemthong liked to feed animals to get outside for exercise and boost her mental health.

She came to Canada from Thailand in 1984 and Dhanu said leaving food out to help sustain “small” animals was part of her Buddhist faith. He described the stress and anguish the charges and court case were causing her.

“It was never her intention to cause harm to the Stanley Park ecosystem,” said Dhanu about Kemthong’s apparent lack of awareness of the coyote problem in the park at the time.

Even though the case has taken two and half years to conclude, both lawyers said a guilty plea came early, indicating remorse from Kemthong Clasby.

The Crown sought $10,000 in fines, with $9,000 going to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

Dhanu sought around $500 in fines, and up to $1,000 more going to conservation, citing his client’s financial outlook as a senior, her age, health, and not having a criminal record as mitigating circumstances.

Not a scapegoat
Sutherland said in his ruling that there was no direct harm from her actions, such as a person being directly bitten or a coyote having to be put down. However, he did rule that she created unsafe conditions in the park.

Both lawyers and Judge Sutherland, made it clear in court that it was not the Clasbys’ actions alone that caused aggressive coyote behaviour as all the attacks happened before her arrest for leaving food out in September 2021.

No one observed a coyote eating any of the food that the Clasbys had put in Stanley Park, the court heard.

Under the Wildlife Act, penalties for leaving out attractants for dangerous wildlife range from $500 in fines and six months in prison to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and several years in prison.

Precedent cases that Sutherland considered included one involving a woman in Whistler who was fined $60,000 for methodically leaving large amounts of food for black bears — some of which had to be destroyed by conservation officers — in 2018.

In December 2022, that fine, one of the largest ever meted out by the courts in B.C. related to the Wildlife Act, was appealed and reduced to $10,500.

In 2021, after repeated warnings to the public not to feed wild animals in Stanley Park, not to leave garbage around and not to visit the park at night, the province stepped in with a coyote cull as a last resort. Four animals were destroyed while conservation officers killed seven before the park’s closure.

The Vancouver Park Board has said that signs, education, better garbage receptacles and a new bylaw prohibiting the feeding of wildlife of any kind in any city park have helped eliminate aggressive coyote attacks.

This article originally appeared on CBC.

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