British Columbia

Appeal court dismisses Fur-Bearers' bear-cub killing case against conservation officer

The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed a case filed by a wildlife advocacy group based on a 2016 incident near Dawson Creek, in which a conservation officer killed a bear cub rather than sending it to a wildlife rehabilitation centre.

Case revolved around the 2016 killing of a bear cub by an officer near Dawson Creek, B.C.

The black bear cub at the centre of the case, 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)

The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed a case filed by the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals against a conservation officer who chose to destroy a bear cub.

The case revolves around a 2016 incident near Dawson Creek, B.C., in which the officer was called after an apparently orphaned bear cub was found in a ditch.

The woman who found the cub, Tiana Jackson, managed to get the bear into a dog kennel before the officer arrived.

According to submissions by the Fur-Bearers' lawyer, Arden Beddoes, it was undisputed that the officer killed the cub, which had been trapped in the enclosure and did not pose a threat to anyone. 

Supreme Court ruling

The group appealed after losing its case in B.C. Supreme Court last year, when the judge decided that the conservation officer, Micah Kneller, had the authority to kill the cub.

In Supreme Court, the province said Kneller made the decision to destroy the cub because he didn't consider it a suitable candidate for captive rearing and release.

Beddoes, who was calling for a declaration from the Court of Appeal that there isn't "an implied power" for conservation officers to kill wild animals that don't pose a threat, argued on Thursday that the case comes down to section 79 of the Wildlife Act.

That section states 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."

Beddoes said that in this case, because the bear was in an enclosure, it couldn't be considered "at large."

He also argued that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act addresses how a captive animal may be destroyed, noting that in that law, it's clear that a registered veterinarian — or authorized agent if the vet isn't readily available — must be consulted if the animal is in critical distress.

'Not humane to simply release the bear'

A lawyer representing the province, David Cowie, argued that the bear was undersized, emaciated and unhealthy, and a report by the conservation officer obtained via a freedom of information request claimed it "was not humane to simply release the bear at that time."

Cowie pointed to a section of the Wildlife Act that referred to "an officer engaged in the performance of his or her duties," leading to considerable discussion about what defined those duties, and whether Kneller was carrying out those duties in 2016.

Justice Harvey Groberman read the appeal court's reasons for its decision, saying it would be inappropriate to consider the appeal proceedings as a case about Kneller's actions, and that the power to kill animals as outlined by the Wildlife Act is not limited to section 79, as the Fur-Bearers' lawyer argued.

Groberman didn't refer to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act in his decision.


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Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker

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