This conservation officer who refused to kill two baby bears won a long legal battle — but the government still won’t let him go back to work

April 3, 2021
Nature
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Image Source: https://www.thestar.com/

Last year, a Vancouver Island conservation officer who defied orders and refused to kill two bear cubs won a lengthy legal fight over his dismissal.

But the government has rejected his requests to return to work, and the matter is again before the courts.

On Monday, Bryce Casavant’s lawyer notified the Ministry of Environment and other government-related parties that Casavant is seeking a court order declaring that he is still a conservation officer and was never legally dismissed.

In 2015, Casavant euthanized a mother bear, which had been eating garbage inside a mobile home park in Port Hardy on Vancouver Island.

But he judged that her cubs, who were only about two months old and the “size of two small dogs,” had a chance to be rehabilitated and brought them to a veterinarian instead.

Wildlife conservation has been his life passion, and Casavant didn’t expect that sparing the cubs would lead to his termination.

Casavant defended himself through much of the ensuing court proceedings, arguing that as a special constable, the decision of discharging his firearm was his to make.

The case attracted international attention — with many observers, including celebrities, backing Casavant.

Meanwhile, the two cubs Casavant refused to kill, later named Jordan and Athena, were successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

The B.C. Court of Appeal’s landmark ruling last June nullified Casavant’s firing and confirmed that special constables are police, so discipline-related matters fall under the Police Act rather than the collective agreement between Casavant’s union and the Ministry of Environment.

Animal rights experts also said at the time that the decision could help prevent unnecessary wildlife deaths, since it showed conservation officers may challenge kill orders.

After the June 4, 2020 ruling, Casavant felt a wave of relief and cried for 15 minutes.

“Then I basically said, ‘Great, now that this is all behind us, see you Monday!’ ” Casavant told the Star, explaining that he had no reason to doubt that he won the lawful right to immediately return to work.

But his request on June 9 for the reactivation of his badge and the re-issuing of his uniform was rejected by the government, Casavant asserted in his new petition to the B.C. Supreme Court.

“Please be advised … that there is no position for Mr. Casavant in the (Conservation Officer Service) for him to report to on Monday,” according to an email dated July 4 seen by the Star, which was signed by Doug Forsdick, executive director of the provincial conservation service.

Bill Wagner, legal counsel to the Ministry of Environment, told the Star on Monday that because the matter is before the courts, the province will not make any public comments, including on the nature of previous correspondence.

The government has 21 days to reply to the court petition.

Casavant says the ordeal has taken a toll on him and his family.

Since the question of back wages wasn’t addressed in the previous court decision, Casavant’s petition asks that the B.C. Supreme Court declare that his conservation officer status is in effect, as well as set an amount for any back wages or benefits owed to him for the years he was prevented from working.

“Mr. Casavant simply wants the job which was unlawfully taken from him back,” Casavant’s lawyer Arden Beddoes said in an interview. “The process that was used to take his job was declared void by the Court of Appeal, so there is no lawful basis for the province to deny him that.”

Casavant says his situation pertains to the rights of thousands of special constables in Canada working in enforcement areas including liquor and gambling licensing as well as natural resources and the environment.

In recent years, public debate has erupted over the appropriate actions of conservation officers in residential neighbourhoods after officers arrested two men and a woman in Coquitlam B.C. in 2019. They were charged with obstructing a conservation officer after the residents allegedly stepped between officers and a mother black bear with two cubs.

Story Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/03/02/this-conservation-officer-who-refused-to-kill-two-baby-bears-won-a-long-legal-battle-but-the-government-still-wont-let-him-go-back-to-work.html

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