B.C. conservation officer who was fired for saving bear cubs is petitioning to get his job back

Black Bear Cubs Photo by Shutterstock/Keith Levit

Conservation officer Bryce Casavant is petitioning the B.C. Supreme Court to get his job back. B.C.’s Ministry of Environment dismissed the 37-year-old in 2015 after he refused to kill two black bear cubs.

Casavant euthanized the mother bear after she was found eating garbage inside a mobile park home in Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. But when a superior gave him kill orders for the two cubs, he refused, determining that they were not a threat and could be rehabilitated.

The cubs were relocated to a wildlife recovery centre where — in what Casavant describes as a “subversive dig”— a government employee named the cubs Jordan, after Casavant’s middle name, and Athena, after his daughter. The cubs have since been successfully reintroduced into the wild.

For defying the kill order, Casavant was surprised to discover that he had been dismissed from his position as a conservation officer. He challenged the dismissal, taking the case to the B.C. Court of Appeal, the province’s highest court.

There, Casavant argued that as a special constable it was his decision whether to discharge his firearm. As a special constable, he also argued that he is technically a police officer, meaning the decision of whether to dismiss him should fall under the Police Act rather than the collective agreement between his union and the Ministry of Environment.

On June 4, 2020, the three justices overseeing the case rendered a unanimous decision in Casavant’s favour, nullifying his dismissal and the process that was used for the dismissal.

“So, in legal speak, that means the dismissal never happened and never should have happened,” Casavant says. “That leaves me in a position where my appointment as a provincial conservation officer remains in force and of effect. So, I don’t require reinstatement or rehiring.”

Casavant was overjoyed about the decision and told his employers that he would see them on Monday to restart work. But on June 9, his request to have his badge reactivated was rejected. “The province said that there’s no longer a position for me in the government,” he says.

Casavant was then served by his own union, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), as they attempted to have the June 4 Court of Appeal decision overturned. The case was brought to the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. On January 21, 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the BCGEU’s appeal.

“That happened just a couple weeks ago, and so I said to my employers, ‘Great, I’ll see you on Monday,’” Casavant says. “While they didn’t say no, they’re just not responding now.”

Casavant and his lawyer have since filed a petition with the B.C. Supreme Court to have his suspension lifted and be allowed to return to work as a conservation officer. “The legal aspects of this case have been decided,” Casavant says. “The Court of Appeal has said that I was not lawfully removed from my position as a conservation officer and nullified that process. So, in effect, the government, unlawfully, is continuing to suspend me.”

As of this July, Casavant says it will have been six years since he refused to shoot the bear cubs. He has remained on suspension the entire time without the opportunity to speak to the allegations of insubordination.

“I find it disgraceful and frustrating,” he says.

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