B.C. conservation officer Bryce Casavant has been suspended without pay for refusing to kill two black bear cubs near Port Hardy after their mother was killed for repeatedly raiding a freezer full of meat and salmon.

Despite an order to kill the cubs too, Casavant took them to a veterinary hospital. They are now at a recovery centre run by the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington, which like Port Hardy is on Vancouver Island.

Robin Campbell, the recovery centre's manager, said the conservation officer did the right thing as the cubs are not habituated to humans and can be reintroduced to the wild.

"[The mother bear] was a problem, but these cubs did nothing."

After Casavant's suspension was reported in a community paper, an online petition was started asking Environment Minister Mary Polak to reinstate the officer.

Mother bear raided freezer

The conservation service had been called by a homeowner to deal with the cubs' mother after she repeatedly raided the freezer inside a mobile home south of Port Hardy, said Campbell.

Two cubs

After a community paper, the North Island Gazette, posted a story showing the tranquillized cubs, a petition was started to reinstate the conservation officer. (North Island Gazette)

The cubs — a brother and sister — returned to the property looking for their mother.

They climbed a tree next to the mobile home, and were removed by a team of firefighters and the conservation officer.

Casavant tranquillized the cubs and took them to a veterinarian, who found they were in good health, Campbell said.

Campbell, whose facility has a provincial permit to rehabilitate black bears, called the order to kill the cubs unusual, since they were fearful of humans and good candidates for release.

"In 30 years, this is the first time we've ever had an issue like this," he said. "There has to be some kind of misunderstanding ... hopefully somebody will come to their senses."

'Sad and unfortunate situation'

The B.C. Ministry of Environment hasn't said what it plans to do about the cubs now, but in a statement said the Conservation Officer Service is investigating "this situation, including the actions of its members."

Watch raw video of the saved cubs

RAW: Orphaned bear cubs saved0:58

"This is a very sad and unfortunate situation," said Polak in a statement. "Although conservation officers must sometimes put down wild animals for the safety of the public and the welfare of the animal, we understand how difficult it is for all involved."

Polak said senior biologists and the provincial wildlife veterinarian are involved in the decision whether to relocate or destroy an animal, in addition to the local conservation officer.

The ministry said it would not comment on personnel matters due to privacy rules.

Casavant confirmed he was suspended without pay over the cubs, but declined to comment further.

Social media reaction

The incident has sparked outrage on social media, with British comedian Ricky Gervais even commenting on the story.