Diversity in wildlife enforcement agencies essential to maintaining public trust.
Victoria, B.C. – A January 29th 2018 article in the Vancouver Sun sparked public outrage after Bryce Casavant, the former BC Conservation Officer who spared two bear cubs in 2015, uncovered information which showed 75 out of 106 uniformed BC Conservation Officers – 70 per cent – also had a hunting record and that 48 officers – 45 per cent – purchased hunting licences last year. Casavant responds to angered online commentators by saying, “This article should not be construed as anti-hunting. I support resident sustenance hunting and First Nations hunting for ceremonial and cultural purposes.”
Under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the government has a duty to assist members of the public with Freedom of Information Requests. Casavant said, “In this case, after attempting to understand how many Conservation Officers were also licenced hunters in BC, multiple members of the public, including myself, were inappropriately told that no such records existed.”
Casavant adds, “Accountability in the government’s duty to assist FOI applicants is essential to an open and transparent democracy. Citizens have information rights, and those rights need to be respected.”
The recruitment practices of the Conservation Officer Service were also recently addressed by the National Observer on December 7th 2017, when a picture of a grizzly bear cub being held by a Conservation Officer had the caption, “Want to tranquilize a grizzly bear? Have you ever wanted to be up close and personal with a live grizzly and get paid for doing it? Well now’s your chance. You could be the next BC Conservation Officer…” The recruitment post was later pulled by the BC government.
Casavant argues that his FOI request and pursuit of the issue is not an anti-hunting agenda but rather about ensuring a transparent and accountable wildlife policing service in BC. “Instead of primarily recruiting hunters for wildlife policing, we need to first directly recruit those that want to be good police officers and then provide them training specific to wildlife enforcement work – this is about making sure we have good cops and an honest wildlife policing service that places integrity and the public trust in the highest regards” said Casavant.
While Casavant agrees that some hunters will make good Conservation Officers, he disagrees with the agency’s current lack of diversity and recruitment strategies, he said, “Building a professional policing service is no easy task, but it all starts with recruiting those who want to serve the public as good wildlife police officers, first, and then training them in the specialized nature of wildlife enforcement work.
Casavant added, “Favoring hunters in recruitment processes strictly because they have knowledge of killing wildlife, to a point where 70 per cent of uniformed staff are hunters, creates a situation where the policing service in question lacks balance and internal workplace diversity.”
Casavant points to his recent papers To Conserve and Protect and Law Gone Wild as examples of why law enforcement services should be staffed in a manner that is representative of the diversity of the public they serve.