The Supreme Court of Canada today announced it will not hear our case related to the killing of a black bear cub by a conservation officer in British Columbia. This decision brings to an end the legal journey that put a spotlight on a lack of oversight, unclear laws, and the need for change in an armed law enforcement agency.
The case began with an incident in spring 2016. Dawson Creek-area resident Tiana Jackson found an apparently orphaned bear cub on the side of a road; after waiting for signs of the mother, Jackson took the cub to her rural property to keep him safe until authorities could arrive. The conservation officer (CO) with whom she spoke on the phone stated the cub would be euthanized – before ever seeing the cub. While awaiting the CO’s arrival, a wildlife rehabilitation centre was contacted and confirmed they could take the cub in for assessment and any necessary rehabilitation until he could be released into the wild.
The cub was killed by lethal injection, according to media reports of the incident. Photos from Jackson show a cub alert and awake prior to his death.
A complaint filed with the Conservation Officer Service (COS) was investigated by the COS; concerns about that process were again reviewed by the COS. That’s when The Fur-Bearers filed a judicial review, asking the courts to determine if legislation was followed, which led to a review by the BC Supreme Court, and our leave to the Supreme Court of Canada for a final consideration.
The Fur-Bearers remain steadfast in our analysis from 2016: the COS is an essential service to British Columbia, but no law enforcement agency should be without independent oversight and transparency, particularly one in which those arguably most affected (wildlife and other animals) do not have a voice. We also believe that the COS should receive greater training, funding, and more officers to make prevention of conflict, not resolution through lethal means, a priority.
As all legal avenues have now been explored, The Fur-Bearers will be compiling a publicly-available report that analyses what we’ve learned through this process, identifies where issues remain, and offers solutions to a better COS and government programs for wildlife.
Despite this decision, positive change has been achieved. Public awareness about how wildlife conflict is managed is at an all-time high, existing policies are being challenged by individuals, organizations, and communities, and according to one article, the Conservation Officer Service is in “’the early stages’ of exploring options for an independent review or oversight body to deal with complaints about officer conduct.”
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