Animal-welfare group loses court fight over killing of a black bear cub
The province's highest court has sided with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Strategy in a lengthy legal battle with the Association for the Protection of Fur Bearing Animals.
Justices Harvey Groberman, Mary Newbury, and Barbara Fisher all agreed that conservation officers have "broad discretion" under the Wildlife Act to kill animals in the performance of their duties.
The saga began in 2016 when a woman named Tiana Jackson found a baby black bear three kilometres from her home in northeastern B.C.
The bear's mother was nowhere to be seen, so Jackson and her brother brought the cub home, put him in a cage, and gave him food and water.
In 2016 she wrote on Facebook that a bear-rehabilitation centre in Smithers was willing to take the cub, but noted that this would require the consent of a conservation officer.
But the conservation officer, Micah Kneller, refused to approve the move, maintaining that bears can't be rehabilitated.
When he showed up at Jackson's home, she stood in front of the cage, crying and begging to be allowed to drive the cub to the rehab centre.
"I was given excuse after excuse that this baby had to die," she stated. "I remained infront of the kennel while he went to get a lethal injection."
After the bear was tranqilized, it was taken away and later killed.
Jackson and the association subsequently went to court, arguing unsuccessfully in B.C. Supreme Court that the execution of the bear was unlawful. That's what led to the more recent case in the B.C. Court of Appeal.
It's illegal under the B.C. Wildlife Act and hunting regulations to kill a bear under the age of two years old.
However, the law provides an exemption for conservation officers who do this in the course of their duties.
"When Officer Kneller arrived at Ms. Jackson’s home, he examined the cub," wrote Justice Groberman in the unanimous decision, which was released on June 22. "His view was that it was in poor condition.
"He told Ms. Jackson that he remained of the view that it could not be rehabilitated, and rejected the idea of having it transported to Smithers to be placed in a wildlife rehabilitation centre," Groberman added.
The petitioners alleged that Kneller "abused his legislated powers and acted outside the scope of his authority" when he killed the bear.
Section 79 of the Wildlife Act stipulates that 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".
"While the appellants suggest that any animal that is not captive is 'at large', that does not comport with the ordinary use of the term," Groberman acknowledged in the ruling. "When we speak of animals that are 'at large' we are generally referring to animals that have escaped or been released from captivity. We do not, generally, refer to wild animals as being 'at large'."
However, he also noted that other sections of the statute, including section 97, provide broader latitude for conservation officers.
It states that "if live wildlife is seized under this Act, a conservation officer may dispose of the wildlife, or have the wildlife disposed of, by returning it to the natural environment if the conservation officer believes on reasonable grounds that the live wildlife is capable of surviving after release".
Section 86 states that offence provisions in the act do not apply to officers engaged in the performance of their duties.