Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Crown seeks stiff sentence for hunting death

Man shot friend in nighttime incident near Sagkeeng

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Ramie Fontaine tragically shot a lifelong friend to death, mistaking him for a moose while illegally hunting at night with a spotlight.

Now, a Manitoba judge must decide what's better: sending a firm message about the dangers of night hunting through a stiff prison sentence, or going easier on the offender and letting him personally bring the warning to his tight-knit reserve community.

Prosecutors want a four-year prison term for Fontaine, 30, for the fatal shooting of his friend, Jason "Jay" Guimond, 35, near Sagkeeng First Nation on the night of Jan. 7, 2010.

Fontaine previously pleaded guilty to unlawful possession and unlawful use of a firearm.

He considered Guimond like a brother to him, and he's been racked with guilt over the shooting, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Colleen Suche heard.

"I hate myself," Fontaine wrote in a letter to the court.

"I hate myself for what happened. If I had the chance to trade my life for his, I would."

'I hate myself for what happened. If I had the chance to trade my life for his, I would'

-- Ramie Fontaine

Guimond and Fontaine were both experienced traditional aboriginal hunters who depended on the practice to feed their families.

Hours before he was shot, Guimond went out to gather firewood but instead tracked and shot two moose.

He left the carcasses in the bush and went to fetch a truck and some help carrying them off.

When he returned to the area, however, it was dark. He wore a hat with LED lights on it but no reflective clothing.

Guimond didn't know Fontaine and others were out hunting from a truck with a spotlight.

Someone shone the light towards Guimond, causing Fontaine to believe he'd seen the eyes of a moose.

Almost immediately, he pulled the trigger on his rifle.

"You shot Jay," one of Guimond's group said as he came running up to Fontaine at the truck.

Guimond died at the scene. He was shot just below an eye. "Death was immediate," Crown attorney Debbie Buors said.

Fontaine should have known to take better care, she said. "The No. 1 rule is to make sure you know what you are shooting at," said Buors.

Fontaine immediately rushed to his dead friend's side. He got a relative to call police and owned up to what happened right away.

All sides agreed Fontaine is considered an upstanding citizen of his community who is genuinely remorseful.

Guimond's family even tried to get him out of jail in time to be a pallbearer at the funeral, Suche was told. Their support for him has dwindled, said Buors.

Hunting at night -- even though forbidden in Manitoba -- remains common in Sagkeeng and neighbouring communities despite how dangerous it is, court heard.

Buors urged Suche to hand down the lengthy prison term for the sake of community safety. A message has to be sent to deter nighttime hunting, she said.

"The community has to be made aware that this practice is not safe," said Buors. "They cannot continue to behave in this manner."

Harsh prison time in this case won't solve or curb the problem, said defence lawyer Evan Roitenberg.

In fact, he said, if a long stretch of prison is ordered, it could be viewed as political interference and imposition on traditional indigenous practices and treaty rights.

It would be better, Roitenberg said, to hand Fontaine 13 months in jail -- a year-long mandatory minimum term applies -- and follow it with probation.

That way, the court could create conditions in which Fontaine returns to his community and must educate others about the dangers of hunting at night, said the lawyer.

"This was an accident at its core," Roitenberg said. "Nobody intended for this to happen."

Suche will decide the case June 11.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2014 A11

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