Three arrested in Coquitlam for allegedly obstructing conservation officers
The BC Conservation Officer Service said three Coquitlam residents were arrested on Tuesday for allegedly obstructing officers searching for a family of bears in a local neighbourhood.
In an email to CTV News, the service said: “The three residents were actively interfering with officers and would not comply with the direction of officers. As a result, the three individuals were arrested as it is an offence to obstruct CO’s under the Wildlife Act.”
They added the bears were killed by officers, as they were deemed to be “heavily habituated and food conditioned."
Susan Flint was one of the three people handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car. She said the incident unfolded rapidly, and that she initially didn't understand what was happening.
"I walked out in my yard and there was a conservation officer in my yard with a shotgun. I said to him, 'Get off my property.' Like, what are you doing?" she said.
When she noticed other officers at the scene as well, Flint began yelling at them not to shoot the mother bear and cubs. Shortly after, she was arrested.
"I was told to have a lawyer, and I'm being fingerprinted, and I have to appear in court...all because I yelled, 'Don't kill the bears!'” Flint said. "They're conservation officers. They're supposed to look after the animals, not destroy them."
Tony Faccin, who lives across the street from Flint, was also arrested. Both he and Flint say officers confiscated their phones.
Faccin says his cellphone has a video of the whole interaction between the three neighbours and conservation officers.
"That could show that I'm wrong or it could show that I'm right, you know?" he said. "And I'm not afraid to show it. Are they?"
In a conference call Wednesday, the BC Conservation Service said the phones were seized because they may contain evidence to support the charges against the three neighbours, who face penalties under both the Criminal Code and the Wildlife Act.
All three were released on a promise to appear.
Flaccin takes issue with the way his phone was taken from him – saying he unlocked his phone to show an RCMP officer his video, and claiming that's when another officer snatched the unlocked device from his hand.
The Conservation Officer Service claims all appropriate protocols were followed when the phones were confiscated.
The mother and cubs are not believed to be the same bear family officers have been searching for around the Mundy Park area. Those animals had been getting into food left behind by people, prompting a temporary ban on cooking and hot foods at the park. Conservation had also set a live trap for the bears, hoping to capture them to see if they had the potential to be relocated.
The conservation service did not have information on the mother bear killed in this incident, but said the cubs appeared underweight for their age.
Unsecured garbage discovered in the area has been reported to the city’s bylaw department.
COS Inspt. Murray Smith said there had been multiple reports about the bears over the past several weeks, and they had been getting into garbage.
“The conservation officers didn’t put the garbage out. You know, it was members of the public,” Smith said.
“It’s the public that has to be held accountable and has to make some changes so that conservation officers won’t be put in this position.”
On July 23, a black bear also made its way into a local home near the park through an open patio door, and pulled the kitchen garbage outside. Karin Duggan, who was inside the house at the time, shut herself and her dog in her young daughter’s room and called 911.
“I said I don’t know if this is the right person to call, but I’m trapped in the bedroom and there’s a bear in my house,” Duggan recalled.
RCMP attended the home around 8:30 pm. Officers arrived to find the bear on the patio. Duggan said they made loud noises to scare it off, but it took a bit of effort.
“They tried to use their airhorn and apparently twice it tried to come back on the deck,” Duggan said.
Eventually the animal took off, leaving before conservation arrived. Sgt. Todd Hunter with the conservation officer service spoke to CTV News Vancouver on Friday, and said while they checked the neighbourhood for the bear, one resident attempted to block officers from their yard.
“People cannot restrict us in the course of our duties,” Hunter said, and added a fine or charges are possible.
A live trap was also set up for that bear nearby. Hunter said if captured, the bear will be put down.
“When it enters a home it’s a pretty significant public safety risk,” Hunter said.
Hunter said despite all the recent warnings, people and businesses are still leaving attractants in easily accessible places. He gave an example of someone who recently brought their improperly secured garbage containing food waste to the curb the night before because they didn’t want to get up early, and even just garbage bins left outside.
“Large percentage of these homes have garages, so those can be stored in the garage. Up against the homes just provides ample opportunity for bears,” Hunter said.
Commercial waste is posing problems too. On July 22, a young male bear spotted near Coquitlam Centre mall was killed by conservation after it was determined the animal had been eating garbage. Unsecured industrial food waste containers were found in the surrounding area, prompting a warning.
“We need everybody to do their part,” Hunter said.
Hunter also said they’ve had one case where a live trap in Anmore was tampered with: the door closed by an unhappy neighbour using a hammer. Hunter said a warning was also ultimately issued in that case, but added he wishes people would focus that kind of energy on prevention efforts.