The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union has released two reports showing that the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (COS) is chronically understaffed, resulting in unsafe working conditions for its officers.
A 2011 report by then-chief conservation officer Edward Illi states that the single officer posts employed by the provincial government appear to contravene the Workers Compensation Act and the Canada Labour Code and “exposes officers and the government to risk.” The report also states that the COS “does not have adequate uniformed officers deployed throughout B.C.” and calls for an increase of 40 conservation officers in the short and medium term to achieve a “minimum deployable strength.”
Another report by the Society of B.C. Conservation Officers assesses staffing levels from 2001 to 2012 and notes that the service lost 42 field officers in that time, a 32 per cent reduction in field staff. The report also chronicles a 70 per cent increase in problem wildlife calls and a 56 per cent increase in poaching and polluting calls since 2001.
“The B.C. government has known since 2011 that understaffing has created an unsafe work environment for conservation officers,” says BCGEU president Stephanie Smith. “Their response has been to consolidate some single officer posts, while leaving large areas like Revelstoke without a local conservation officer.
“There are still 9 single officer posts and 15 CO vacancies in a dangerously understaffed conservation officer service. This is unacceptable and clearly shows that the government must hire more officers to protect our members and the people of British Columbia.”
Bryce Casavant, the conservation officer who was suspended after following policy and not euthanizing two bear cubs, works in a single officer post in Port Hardy. News coverage of the event has reached international media.
Conservation Officers are peace officers charged with enforcing federal and provincial statutes related to environmental compliance and enforcement, shared stewardship and public safety.
Changes to legislation have broadened COs responsibilities without any corresponding increase in staffing levels.