A local MPP’s push to raise the fine for illegal trespassing to $500 is music to Ron D’Haene’s ears.
The Sarnia nature photographer, who owns 99 acres of bush in Lambton County, says disrespectful trespassers who use private property without permission should pay more.
“I just wish it was a thousand,” he said.
D’Haene purchased his forested land as an investment in 1994. ‘The Project’ soon became a labour of love, a place to observe, protect and document wildlife.
But his experience with trespassers has been less than positive.
D’Haene said his initial meeting with a man hunting on his property was just the first of many abusive confrontations he’s had over the years.
When he told the stranger he owned the property and hunting wasn’t allowed the man replied: ‘We hate guys like you.’
The would-be hunter half raised his gun, D’Haene said, and told him a bullet could “easily go right through him,” adding it could be called a “hunting accident.”
D’Haene didn’t budge and the hunter left. He said he has no idea who the man was and never saw him again.
The property’s ‘No Trespassing’ signs have repeatedly been shot and trashed, and gates and fences smashed by trespassers and vandals.
Flouting the law and assuming the right to hunt anywhere is a learned behavior, D’Haene says.
“It’s an outdated form of male bonding passed down from generation to generation,” he said.
He’s had problems with out-of-season deer poaching as well with animals baited in the fields skirting his property line.
“These guys aren’t hunters — they’re killers,” said D’Haene, who added he has no problem with ethical hunting.
The practice known as “running the block” or “pushing the bush” is especially distasteful, he said.
That’s when groups move through the woods collectively and ‘push’ the deer ahead of them, with waiting hunters picking the animals off as they emerge.
“It’s not necessary for 16 guys to chase a deer,” he said, shaking his head.
Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton is pushing for amendments to the 2016 Ontario Trails Act. He said the legislation doesn’t adequately address the illegal trespass issue — a problem raised by many of his constituents.
Currently, a simple trespassing conviction results in a $50 fine, although in severe cases a judge can set higher penalties.
McNaughton wants the fines raised and a portion given to landowners whose property is damaged by trespassers. Nor does the legislation spell out what a landowner can do about trespassers when an officer of the law isn’t around, he said.
“I will say most hunters are ethical and abide by the law, but some don’t respect it.”
Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey agrees with McNaughton.
“A $500 fine would go a long way to discourage one or two irresponsible people,” he said.
Today, D’Haene has surveillance cameras throughout the property, where he’s spent “tens of thousands” of dollars building ponds and creating trails.
He said while others grow corn or soybeans on their land he uses his to raise wildlife.
“Outsiders don’t have the right to strip my crop,” he said. “I like my crop.”
His advice to other property owners facing illegal trespassers is to call the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry tip line, followed by a call to the police.
Sarnia Police Const. John Sottosanti said deer poaching isn’t a big problem within city limits but complaints are received about hunters shooting Canada geese.
Those hunters need to get a permit from the city as well as permission from the landowner, he said.