Calgary

Province cancels volunteer programs after death in Alberta park

All programs run by volunteers in Alberta's provincial parks were abruptly cancelled this week, as Alberta Parks conducts safety reviews following the death of a volunteer in a park last fall.

Volunteers will have to meet same occupational health and safety requirements as parks staff

Alberta Environment and Parks has issued a stop work order for all volunteer programs in provincial parks. (David Bell/CBC)

All programs run by volunteers in Alberta's provincial parks were abruptly cancelled this week, as Alberta Parks conducts safety reviews following the death of a volunteer in a park last fall.

Nic Blanchet, executive director of the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society — which boasts more than 240 volunteers, and puts on programs like walking tours, yoga classes and painting and photography inside the park — says all of its programs are now cancelled thanks to a stop work order issued by Alberta Environment and Parks for all voluntary sector activities.

'Everything has been shut down'

"Everything has been shut down," Blanchet said, noting that all volunteer societies that operate in Alberta Parks have been impacted. 

"There's a degree of disappointment among the volunteers because it's important to them," he said. "A lot of our volunteers are retired folk and this is their way to contribute to their community and engage with the park and give back."

Blanchet said his organization is now working through various occupational health and safety hazard assessments. 

In a statement, Alberta Environment and Parks said it will assess all volunteer activities to ensure they comply with the same occupational health and safety standards as parks staff.

"They've implemented this for staff and for volunteer associations. They want to standardize it all," Blanchet said. "It's very good for us to review our policies and procedures."

Nancy Oiumet with Friends of Kananaskis, which is under the same stop work order, agrees.

"Having consistency in occupational health requirements is a benefit to all of us and how we can represent the volunteer sector and ensure volunteer engagement is done at a high standard of safety," she said.

Both groups have projects planned for spring and summer and hope to see the stop work order lifted within a few weeks.

With files from Elissa Carpenter