B.C. animal-rights groups appeal court decision that conservation officers may kill animals at discretion

Baby bear in a cage [Credit: Tiana Jackson]

Animal rights activists are appealing a ruling by a BC Supreme Court judge that said conservation officers have the right to euthanize animals at their discretion.

The case came about after a conservation officer killed an apparently orphaned black bear cub that was found in Dawson Creek in 2016, even though a licensed wildlife centre in Smithers had offered to take it. Tiana Jackson, who found the cub by the roadside in May 16, joined together with animal conservation group the Fur-Bearers to file a court petition that challenged the conservation officer’s decision to euthanize the cub.

The petition argued that the officer had violated the Wildlife Act, which states, “An officer may kill an animal, other than a domestic animal, that is at large and is likely to harm persons, property, wildlife or wildlife habitat.” The activists argued that this means officers cannot kill animals who are not likely to harm people, property, or wildlife.

Black bear cub in cage with a bowl
Jackson took the bear cub to her home and kept him in a kennel while waiting for the conservation officer to arrive. [Credit: Tiana Jackson]
“The province says there are no legal limits on the ability of conservation officers to kill animals,” Arden Beddoes, the lawyer representing the Fur-Bearers, said when the case was still in court. “What we say is that . . . the Wildlife Act actually directs that there are limits. If they’re not a threat, the officer, we say, does not have authority to kill the animal.”

However, in December 2017, a judge ruled in favour of the Conservation Officer Service. The Fur-Bearers responded by filing an appeal on January 3, 2018.

When she found the cub alone in May 2016, Jackson called the RCMP, who called in the conservation officer. When he arrived, he told her he had to euthanize the cub.

“I cried and begged him not to do that,” Jackson told the CBC. “He grabbed the cub, it growled and cried, and he gave it a lethal injection.”

The Ministry of Environment released a statement saying that the officer had deemed the cub to be in poor health and not a candidate for rehabilitation. “While a human-conditioned cub might appear ‘cute’, it can seriously injure or kill people if it grows to become and adult bear without a fear of people,” the statement said. The ministry also reminded people that feeding wildlife for any reason (as Jackson had done) is illegal.

Jackson gave a full account of her side of story in a Facebook post.

This isn’t the first time there’s been a public disagreement over when to euthanize bear cubs. In 2015, a conservation officer was let go when he refused to euthanize two orphaned  cubs. He has since released a report calling for changes to wildlife enforcement agencies.

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