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Entering closed area at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park for photo costs couple $1,250 each

"Is it worth the $1,250 to go see it?"
Off-trail use at Johnston Canyon is banned to protect endangered black swifts (pictured) nesting along the cliffs at one of Banff National Park’s busiest tourist attractions. The species was assessed as endangered in 2015 by the Committee on Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

BANFF – The "secret cave" photo in Banff National Park has cost two Calgary individuals $1,250 each.

Standing in front Judge Les Grieve in the Canmore Provincial Courthouse on Sept. 18, Alexandre Mogan and Louisa MacDonald pleaded guilty to the entering a closed area to go off-trail at Johnston Canyon where endangered black swifts nest and fledge during the spring, summer and fall months.

"Is it worth the $1,250 to go see it," Judge Grieve asked.

Mogan and MacDonald both said no.

On July 29, a trail camera caught the pair, plus a third person, going off the designated trail into the area that is known for having a secret waterfall that is a popular location for social media photographs. 

The third person in the group, Catherine Landry was also charged, but the Federal Crown lawyer Anita Szabo mentioned Landry lives in Quebec and Judge Grieve said the matter can be settled in the Quebec court system to avoid unnecessary, costly travel.

"This [area] has been restricted and marked off for two years now ... hopefully these fines send a general deterrence message," Szabo said in court.

While in the past, the enclosed area from the lower trail sign to the Ink Pots/Moose Meadows was a popular spot for hikers to go off trail to explore and grab photos, last year Parks Canada announced the area would be closed due to black swift nesting numbers dropping from 20 to two or three nesting pairs.

Officially closed last August to November 2018, and implemented again this year from April 15 to Nov. 15, Parks Canada Wardens announced earlier this year they would be cracking down on people to protect the endangered species and promote hiker safety, installing 32 signs along the path to warn and inform hikers of the closure.

"This is not a criminal matter, you have your lives ahead of you ... but keep in mind those trail markings are for your safety," Grieve said.

The Judge agreed with the Crown's recommendation to fine each person $1,250 with the monies to go to the Environmental Damages Fund. 

While designated as an endangered species in 2015 after being assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the closure is also in place to prevent erosion, trampling and disturbance of sensitive ground and riparian vegetation – and to support safety of visitors within a canyon environment containing numerous steep, wet and slippery slopes, according to the government website.

More than 70 people have been charged this year. The maximum fine for individuals charged under the Canada National Parks Act is $25,000.

Jenna Dulewich

About the Author: Jenna Dulewich

Jenna Dulewich is a national and provincial award-winning multi-media journalist. Joining the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019, she covers Stoney Nakoda, MD of Bighorn, Canmore and court.
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