Group wants body cameras on B.C. conservation officers after 4,500 bears killed in 8 years
Published Thursday, January 2, 2020 11:01AM PST Last Updated Thursday, January 2, 2020 7:33PM PST
VANCOUVER -- A B.C. environmental group is calling for mandatory body cameras on conservation officers to address what it calls an "alarming" number of bear and cougar deaths in the province.
According to the B.C. government, conservation officers killed 4,341 black bears, 162 grizzly bears and 780 cougars over the last eight years.
In response to those numbers, Pacific Wild, a non-profit run out of the Great Bear Rainforest, has penned an open letter to B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman calling for increased oversight of the Conservation Officer Service.
"The current kill statistics are alarming and do not reflect the modern-day values of British Columbians," executive director Ian McAllister said in a news release.
"To provide transparency, ensure public trust, and to protect the integrity of conservation officers, we are calling on the minister to make body-cameras mandatory and independent oversight a top priority for 2020."
In December, the provincial government released a report highlighting audits done in B.C. during summer 2019 and into the fall when bears are foraging for food. At the time, Heyman described human-wildlife conflict as a "serious issue" in the province, and said preventing those conflicts from happening is the best way to maintain public safety while protecting animals.
The government said the audits resulted in:
- 704 inspections throughout the province
- 76 charges
- 301 warnings
- 355 Dangerous Wildlife Protection Orders, which direct a property owner to remove an attractant or face a $575 fine
"Not a single conservation officer relishes the thought of having to put down an animal, which is always a last resort for public safety," Heyman said in a news release on Dec. 20.
Pacific Wild addressed the issue in its letter, writing: "This presumption is based on the belief that if there were no non-natural foods available then there would be no public safety issues; as a result, no bears would be killed by Conservation Officers."
In a skype interview, Bryce Casavant told CTV News it’s the minister’s job to be impartial when it comes to law enforcement.
"It’s quite alarming especially when the press releases coming out are a little bit of a smoke screen,” said Casavant. “They don’t talk about the kill statistics. They try to frame the Conservation Officer Service in only a positive light without talking about what’s actually happening in the field. And I find that completely disingenuous."
The group wants to see the office suspend the BCCOS’s use of ministerial communications, and instead "make independent oversight a priority for 2020 and to ensure a strategic implementation plan is provided before the next electoral cycle." They went on to recommend all field officers wear body cameras starting April 1.
“The actions of a law enforcement officer, in the line of duty, continually discharging their firearms and killing non-human species, without accountability mechanisms in place. That’s the concern,” said Casavant. “That’s what needs to be corrected.”
CTV News has reached out to the Ministry of Environment for a response to the letter.