Wildlife group challenges B.C.'s interpretation of law on destroying bears

A woman who found a black bear cub that was later killed by a conservation officer is accusing the British Columbia government of breaking its own laws.

Court petition filed in case of bear cub killed by conservation officer

A black bear cub is pictured in the Dawson Creek, B.C., area on May 6, 2016, before it was destroyed by a conservation officer. (The Fur Bearers/Tiana Jackson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A woman who found a black bear cub that was later killed by a conservation officer is accusing the British Columbia government of breaking its own law on the destruction of wild animals.

Tiana Jackson and the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals have filed a court petition challenging the officer's decision to kill the cub near Dawson Creek in May 2016.

They argue the Wildlife Act prohibits officers from killing animals unless they pose a threat to people, property or wildlife. The province counters in court documents that the law gives wide discretion to officers to destroy animals.

"The province says there are no legal limits on the ability of conservation officers to kill animals," Arden Beddoes, a lawyer representing Jackson and the advocacy group, said outside court Wednesday.

Not a threat

"What we say is that ... the Wildlife Act actually directs that there are limits," he said.

"If they're not a threat, the officer, we say, does not have authority to kill the animal."

Jackson found the apparently orphaned bear cub, which was about the size of a domestic cat, by the side of the road on May 6, 2016, the petitioners said in court documents.

She called RCMP, which contacted the conservation officer service.

In the meantime, she and others caught the bear and brought it back to a dog pen on her property to keep it safe, the documents said.

Jackson received a call from conservation officer Micah Kneller, who told her he would come and kill the bear, even though she told him a wildlife rehabilitation centre was willing to take the cub, according to the documens.

"She was very upset," Beddoes told a B.C. Supreme Court judge as the two-day hearing began Wednesday.

Decision to kill unlawful?

The petitioners are seeking an order directing the province to obey the law as they interpret it.

They also want a declaration that Kneller's decision to kill the cub was unlawful.

The province argues in court documents that the law gives officers the authority to destroy animals as they deem necessary.

It points to a section of the Wildlife Act that says the offences outlined in the act do not apply to an "officer engaged in the performance of his or her duties."

The act "implicitly anticipates that conservation officers may need to euthanize wounded wildlife or wildlife that cannot otherwise survive in the wild," the province says in the documents.

The province said Kneller made the decision because he didn't consider the cub to be a suitable candidate for captive rearing and release.

Beddoes told the judge the petitioners accept that some wild animals must be killed because they are sick, injured or otherwise unlikely to survive.

But they say a different provincial law, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, states that the animal should be evaluated by a wildlife professional, such as a veterinarian.

"That act wasn't complied with here," Beddoes said outside court.

Conservation officers in B.C. have responded to 1,972 calls about black bears and killed 454 of the animals between January and the end of October.

During the same period last year, they responded to 1,757 calls and killed 458 black bears.

In 2015, conservation officer Bryce Casavant was suspended and later transferred out of the service after he refused to kill two bear cubs.

The incident prompted calls on social media for Casavant to be reinstated, including from English comedian Ricky Gervais.