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Johnston Canyon closure charges continue

With more than 30 signs to communicate to hikers along Johnston Canyon there is a closure to protect endangered black swifts that next in the cliffs at a popular spot for people to take selfies, Parks Canada Wardens charged more than people this summer with entering the area

BANFF – Another ten individuals were hit with $1,250 fines each for entering the closed area at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park with more than 30 signs along the path warning hikers to stay on the trail due to the endangered species nesting in the cliffs.

Designated as an endangered species in 2015, black swifts use the cliffs along Johnston Canyon trail as one of the three nesting and fledging spots in Alberta. Parks Canada officially restricted off-trail access last summer after realizing the nesting pairs had dropped significantly – from 20 nesting pairs to only one to two nesting pairs per season.

The majority of those charged said they did not realize the off-trail closure was in place for an endangered species. Defence lawyer Anne Wilson represented a handful of those charged, noting her clients were "devastated" and "upset" with themselves.

"They were devastated at the thought they could have harmed an endangered species ... they said they knew the signs were there for their safety, but they felt they were safe," Wilson said about a pair from Texas where both were charged.

Justice Margaret Keelaghan listened to the cases on Sept. 25 in the Canmore Provincial Courthouse with Courtney and Shelly Lerch from Texas charged on Aug. 5; Liberty De Vera charged on Aug. 6; Samip Doshi and Crystal Nguyen from Miami charged on Aug. 6; Jimmy Luu from Paris fined on Aug. 15; Alberta residents Braden and Kristina Boechler charged on July 15; Biniamin Isakov from Manitoba charged earlier this summer; and Kerry McArthur from British Columbia charged on July 8.

Wilson requested a lower fine of $750 for McArthur due to her client's budget, but federal Crown prosecutor Anita Szabo argued the fine has been set as a standard $1,250 and brought up aggravating factors including McArthur arguing with the warden that she followed other people into the area and asked to see proof of her trespassing.

"She motioned to printed directions to the Secret Cave, a popular photography site, which is within the restricted area, that she held in her hands. She questioned if the warden has proof she had entered the restricted areas," Szabo said.  

The judge said an individual's budget is not for her to comment on, but gave those charged between six months to a year to pay.

All of the ten individuals were fined $1,250 each.

Parks set up surveillance trail cameras earlier this summer that photograph individuals going off trail at this specific location, assisting in the more than 77 Johnston Canyon charges that have come through the courts this nesting and fledging season.

This is the second year Parks Canada put an official closure off the trail from April 15 to Nov. 15 to minimize the disturbance to the endangered bird.

Parks installed more than 30 signs along the trail including boards explaining off trail use is restricted "to prevent erosion, trampling and the disturbance of sensitive ground and riparian vegetation. To support the safety of visitors within a canyon environment containing numerous steep, wet and slippery slopes. To minimize disturbance to black swifts that nest on cliffs along Johnston Canyon."

Other smaller signs along the trail note trespassers are in a closed area under surveillance and violators may be charged under the Canada National Parks Acts a maximum penalty of $25,000.

The popular hiking trail is located approximately 38 kilometres from the Banff town site, along Highway 1A.  

All the fine monies were directed to the Environmental Damages Fund (EDF).

Fines collected in the EDF are earmarked for priority projects that will benefit Canada's natural environment. Currently $600,000 is available for projects in Alberta aimed at protecting, conserving or restoring the environment in the province with priority projects focused on healthy freshwater ecosystems.  

Several other individuals were also fined in court for a variety of Canada National Parks Act charges within Banff National Park including a $300 fine for a small fire, three individuals charged $350 each for a fire in the national park, a $250 fine for having liquor during a liquor ban and a $500 fine for having a campsite in a messy condition.