Mr. John appealed a decision of the Deputy Director of Wildlife (“the Deputy Director”) denying him a permit to possess six African Gaboon vipers. The Deputy Director found that Gaboon vipers fell under the description “Viperidae – pit vipers” in section 1(v) of Schedule A of the Designation and Exemption Regulation and were therefore “wildlife” under the Wildlife Act. He denied the permit on the grounds that the Ministry had a policy not to allow the private possession of venomous snakes except in special circumstances, none of which were present in this case. The issue in the appeal was whether the Gaboon viper was properly found to be wildlife under the Act given that Gaboon vipers are Viperidae, but are not pit vipers.
The Panel found that Gaboon vipers are not prescribed as “wildlife” under the Act and therefore the Ministry policy is not applicable in this case. The Panel placed no weight on the extrinsic evidence of a Wildlife Branch biologist that the legislature intended to capture these snakes when it amended section 1(v). The Panel found that the meaning of this phrase “Viperidae – pit vipers” should be determined by reference to its general use, other sections in the Regulation, and the context of the section in which it appears. In doing so, the Panel concluded that the term “pit vipers” was meant to narrow the application of Viperidae to only include the pit viper subfamily. Further, to include the Gaboon viper within this section would be to disregard the use of the common name “pit viper”, or to interpret it as meaningless, contrary to the principles of statutory interpretation.
The Panel found that Gaboon vipers are “animals” under the Act, for which no permit is required. However, if the animal is released, abandoned or escapes, the Act prescribes certain consequences. Accordingly, the Panel rescinded the decision of the Deputy Director. The appeal was allowed.