© Diane Crocker
John Decker is seen outside provincial court in Corner Brook on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.
CORNER BROOK — For years John Decker said he had a verbal agreement with Gros Morne National Park allowing him to operate an all-terrain vehicle in the area of Bakers Brook.
But last summer the park took action against the Rocky Harbour man and charged him with four offences under the National Park Act.
He was found guilty on two charges of unlawfully operating an all-terrain vehicle in a national park, one count of unlawfully removing, defacing, damaging or destroying flora or natural objects and one count of operating a motor vehicle other than on a highway in provincial court in Corner Brook on Monday and sentenced on Thursday.
Judge Wayne Gorman gave Decker a suspended sentence and placed him on probation for nine months.
Outside court Decker said he believes he was singled out by the park.
He grew up in Bakers Brook and fished there for 33 years.
“And all the park wardens before those guys there now ... we had a verbal agreement that we could use the beach with our ATVs. We never had no problems.”
Never indicated there was an issue
Before the charges were laid last summer, Decker said park wardens drove right by him and never indicated there was an issue with him driving his ATV in the park.
Instead, he said “they set up what I call a trap.”
Images from a motion detecting camera set up in the area shows him operating an ATV and a pick-up truck within the park on July 27 and Aug. 29.
On one occasion they show him picking up eight or 10 sticks of driftwood for firewood by the water’s edge. He didn’t have a permit to do so and this is what led to the removing flora charge.
In defending his actions Decker said there’s no signage in the park saying not to use ATVs and that the road and beach area had been used by his family for years without any problems.
He also said it’s his understanding the park has a protocol in place to deal with the public that would first see them talk with a person and issue a verbal warning over any concerning action, the second step would involve a written warning and then finally proceed to court action.
“That was all bypassed in this case,” he said. “They set up a trap for me.”
Decker said “they’re attacking the poorest of the poorest, the local people the poor people is what they’re attacking and charging.”
And he feels he’s being used as an example.
“Machine after machine passed that camera.”
An interesting note to the story is that this past May, Decker received a letter from the superintendent of the park giving him permission to operate an ATV or personal vehicle within the park for the purposes of retrieving fishing gear during the 2013 fishing season.
In his decision on guilt, Judge Gorman said the permission provided in May does not provide an excuse or justification for Decker’s earlier actions.
When asked if he was pleased with the suspended sentence, Decker said no.
“Still I got those convictions. It should have never come this far.”
His wife Roxanne Decker said the whole situation is very frustrating for them. She said she sees vehicle after vehicle being illegally operated in the park and no other charges are laid.
“As for not being allowed to retrieve firewood off the beach, we never ever knew nothing about that.” She said that’s something everybody does, including park staff during events at park sites.
“If they’re going to set protocols for things they got to do it for everybody, not just one.”
She has a warning to tourists and others that they better beware that there’s cameras everywhere in the park. “And if you’re going up on that point whether it be for a drive or for romantic evening you’re watched.”
As part of his probation, Gorman also ordered Decker to contact the superintendent of Gros Morne National Park and offer to work as a volunteer within the park. If the superintendent is agreeable, Gorman said Decker must perform 50 hours of volunteer work as directed and supervised by the superintendent.
Decker is not happy with that, but said he will comply.
“I’ve got to do it, it’s part of my probation.”
Parks Canada was contacted to comment on Decker’s sentence, however, a response was not provided prior to press time.