New research shows a need for changes to the policies of the Conservation Officer Service in British Columbia in order to improve vital public trust.
Bryce Casavant, the former North Island Conservation Officer whose refusal to follow an order to kill two bear cubs made international headlines in 2016, has produced a technical report while in a doctoral program with Royal Roads University. Utilizing a survey conducted by Insights West regarding public perceptions and experiences with law enforcement officers responding to situations of human-wildlife conflict, Casavant analyzed the data and found several areas where improvement in wildlife law enforcement is necessary.
“The killing of wildlife by a government agency is emerging as a clear social concern in British Columbia,” Casavant says, pointing to regular media coverage of such incidents and a recent court case against the Conservation Officer Service as examples. “Public trust in law enforcement is an essential aspect of a functioning democracy, and this includes uniformed and armed enforcement officers whose duties are focused on wildlife.”
Casavant’s key recommendations from his technical report include third-party oversight of the Conservation Officer Service to ensure policy and the actions of officers are consistent with current laws, public expectations, and public trust; training for working with the public and alternatives to lethal force with wildlife; a review of internal policies to develop agency-specific training; and the creation of standardized call centre messaging for the public.
“The public have expectations of how Conservation Officers or other law enforcement officers will act or respond to human-wildlife conflict situations, and when they’re not met, the trust they have in those agencies may begin to erode,” Casavant says. “This technical report does not offer immediate solutions, but questions that must be addressed, and areas where the public trust can be improved for the benefit of all parties.”
– Gazette staff