In reference to the Province’s Jan 29th article pertaining to the BC Conservation Officer Service, the article states, “it was inferred that the B.C. Conservation Officer Service is over-represented by hunters and that conservation officers choose their career for reasons inconsistent with protecting and conserving B.C.’s natural capital.” It’s also stated that policy issues were not addressed and that the motivations and interests of Conservation Officers, hunters, and anglers were attacked.
In order to ensure the record is correct, I wish to clarify the following:
- The initial article was a result of the government not complying with their legislated responsibilities pursuant to BC information laws and should not be construed as anti-hunting. 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 article focused on the government’s data pertaining to hunting records of sworn law enforcement officers with the BCCOS. Anglers were never mentioned and no inference was ever made.
- This is about the ability of armed, badged, and sworn law enforcement officers to fairly represent the general public on matters pertaining to their wildlife mandate.
I agree that many resident hunters care about our environment and about our wildlife – so do many others in this province. I also agree that the BC Wildlife Federation conducts important conservation and education work in the Province of BC – as do many other organizations.
Where we disagree is on the point of 70 per cent of armed wildlife officers being hunters. I stand by my assertion that the over representation of hunters in the BCCOS is a conflict of interest for the agency. In BC the BCCOS directly recruits licenced hunters. 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.
In justifying the high number of officers who are hunters, the author states, “The reality is hunters, and anglers are over-represented across all fields related to natural resource conservation… The motivation is simple: because hunters and anglers care about the sustainability of our natural resources.”
I argue that 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 and is unable to uphold the public trust or maintain a perception of impartiality.
It’s also asserted that groups such as Wild Safe B.C. were designed in concert with the B.C. Conservation Officer Service to prevent habituation of wildlife and reduce human-wildlife conflict. However, BC’s Auditor General has noted concerns with the BCCOS program. In her long-awaited report she stated:
- “…We expected the COS to be evaluating the tools and resources it has available (warnings, tickets and formal charges) to ensure they are effective and sufficient, but no such evaluations have taken place.” (page 7 of the BC AG Report)
- “The COS relies on WildSafe BC to deliver an education program to prevent a conflict with bears but the program is limited and the COS has not evaluated it for its effectiveness.” (page 8 of the AG Report)
Quite simply, the current system is not working. To be frank, it’s not just hunters that care about conservation and the environment, many British Columbians do, and I am one of them.
As long as diversity is ignored within wildlife law enforcement and government bureaucracy, there will exist a conflict of interest that will continue to exclude non-consumptive stakeholders. I am advocating for a balanced, fair, transparent, and accountable wildlife policing service – nothing more.
Bryce Casavant is a former BC Conservation Officer who made international headlines in 2015 when he refused to kill two bear cubs. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Royal Roads University, studying public trust and wildlife co-existence in BC.