BANFF – Illegal campers in Banff’s backcountry learned the hard way the cost of breaking the rules.
Jason Giroux, a former Bow Valley resident, pleaded guilty in Canmore Provincial Court on Oct. 31 to contravening the Canada National Parks Act for illegally camping with Amy Mikla at Rockbound Lake near Castle Mountain this summer. They were fined $400 each.
The court heard the two campers were spotted from a helicopter on Aug. 26 and two wardens and a wildfire initial attack crew went in to investigate.
“They weren’t there for the day and got stuck. They were camping in the backcountry,” said federal prosecutor Anita Szabo.
“Illegal campers kill grass, flatten shrubbery, and don’t have proper food storage so can attract bears and other wildlife.”
Rockbound Lake is tucked behind the east end of Castle Mountain, accessed by a 17-km out and back trail.
The Crown dropped a charge related to a smouldering campfire during a period of a park-wide fire ban after Giroux repeatedly maintained he and Mikla had not been responsible for lighting the fire.
“We understand we have to take responsibility (for camping),” said Giroux, who also entered a guilty plea on behalf of Mikla. “But we didn’t start it. There was a fire smouldering there. That’s why we set up there.”
Szabo argued for a higher fine of $500, noting the helicopter and initial attack crew came from fighting the Wardle Creek wildfire in neighbouring Kootenay National Park.
“It costs $1,600 an hour for a helicopter,” she said.
Judge Harry Van Harten settled on a $400 fine each for Giroux and Mikla.
“Well, you won’t be doing that again,” said the judge.
In 2016, Parks Canada responded to 53 illegal camping incidents, resulting in 42 charges. Last year that almost doubled to 96 cases, which ended in 44 charges being laid. The numbers for 2018 have not yet been compiled.
Parks managers recently told wardens in Lake Louise to make illegal camping a lower enforcement priority, and to put more emphasis on enforcing problems around wildlife feeding and species at risk.
This is not meant to affect the day-to-day operational work and routine patrols by law enforcement wardens, but prioritizes what management sees as greater threats to ecological integrity on a proactive basis.