BANFF – It's not every day a man tries to fight a grizzly bear.
But it appears that is what happened in Banff National Park in 2015 when Devin Mitsuing, 35, got out of his truck shirtless and began shouting at the young grizzly while in a "boxing stance" before charging at it, according to an eyewitness to the incident.
Caught on camera by a couple of nearby photographers, who were taking pictures of the lone grazing grizzly on Highway 93 and called RCMP after the incident, Mitsuing was later located in Radium, B.C. by RCMP and a Park Warden and charged under the National Parks Act, for disturbing wildlife in a national park.
After two previous missed court dates, the case finally came to trial in the Canmore Provincial Courthouse Friday (Sept. 13) morning with Judge George Gaschler finding the Saskatchewan man guilty and imposing a $4,000 fine.
"It is abundantly clear this is a disturbance of a grizzly bear and I find [Mr. Mitsuing] guilty," Judge Gaschler said.
While Mitsuing was at the courthouse before the doors officially opened, he left to run errands and grab some food, resulting in his absence from the morning trial.
Two witnesses were called to the stand, one of the photographers who captured the incident and the Parks warden who charged Mitsuing.
British Columbia photographer Thomas Murray O'Neill said they had been taking pictures of the bear on the Icefields Parkway near Peyto Lake for approximately an hour on June 5, 2015, when the red truck with a Saskatchewan licence plate pulled up.
"We were on the other side of the highway when a truck pulled up and two gentlemen got out, started yelling at the bear and throwing rocks ... then he took off his shirt and got in a boxing stance," O'Neill explained.
The photographer watched Mitsuing, shirtless, yell and taunt the young grizzly for approximately five to 10 minutes before the man started running toward the bear, startling it to run back into the bush.
O'Neill said he couldn't hear what Mitsuing was shouting, but was confident in identifying the bear as a grizzly, as he has been taking pictures of wildlife, especially grizzlies, for the past 40 years.
O'Neill said they were concerned, as the men in the truck seemed inebriated, so he called the RCMP.
Park Warden Paul Friesen testified he was working in Kootenay National Park when he was contacted by dispatch about a man harassing a grizzly bear in Banff National Park.
"When I queried the licence plate, I realized Columbia Valley had queried the licence plate too," Friesen said during the trial.
After a quick chat with officials, the Warden discovered the vehicle in question had been impounded after RCMP officers were called to Radium Hot Springs with reports of a disturbance. After finding Mitsuing and his friends at the hot springs too intoxicated to drive, RCMP impounded the vehicle and dropped the group off at a local hotel.
Friesen located Mitsuing at the hotel the following morning and took an audio statement that was played in court, where Mitsuing asked several times where he was and said he did not throw rocks, but was merely trying to get a photo with the bear.
"I was just trying to get a picture, was just f**king around ... I thought it was a brown bear," Mitsuing can be heard saying in the audio statement.
Toward the end of the recording, Mitsuing asked where he was and when told he was in British Columbia, he swore. The warden asked where he was going and Mitsuing replied, "I don't know ... I was trying to go golfing."
Federal Crown prosecutor Jeremy Newton said Mitsuing was incredibly lucky he was not maimed or killed in the incident and noted that grizzly bears are a protected species.
Judge Gaschler said it was obvious this was disturbance of a grizzly bear and agreed to the Crown's recommendation of a $4,000 fine, with the monies going toward the Environmental Damages Fund.
"What is the next step? He isn't here," Judge Gaschler asked after the ruling.
It was decided Mitsuing would have until Oct. 16 to pay the fine, or face 33 days in jail.
Mitsuing did return to the courthouse an hour after the trial concluded and turned himself into Canmore RCMP.
"I think the judge said it best, when an individual creates this kind of dangerous situation with a bear, when they charge at him, when they throw rocks at him when they cause him to run into the bush, you are going to create an aggressive animal that obviously has the ability to do a lot of harm to humans and the public in general," Newton said after the trial.
"Mr. Mitsuing wasn't just putting himself in danger, he putting every other person who comes across this bear in danger in the future, so a large fine is a strong message to other individuals who, for whatever reason, would think to engage in this kind of behaviour you would hope they wouldn't but it should be even more obvious now."