Equipping Sask. conservation officers with carbines won't change anything: Environment Ministry

Government spokesperson Kevin Murphy addressed concerns raised by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations after it found out the government was looking to equip conservation officers with carbines.

FSIN has called idea 'truly disturbing and unnecessary'

Kevin Murphy, an assistant deputy minister with the Ministry of Environment's resource management and compliance division, addressed concerns raised by the FSIN about conservation officers being equipped with carbines. (Bryan Eneas / CBC News)

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment is addressing concerns raised by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations about conservation officers being issued semi-automatic carbines — rifles with shorter barrels, commonly used by the military and police tactical units because they're lighter and easier to handle.

On Oct. 24, the government of Saskatchewan posted a bid request seeking 147 semi-automatic patrol carbines.

FSIN Fourth Vice-Chief Heather Bear raised several concerns on behalf of the organization in a press release Monday.

"The idea that conservation officers are carrying assault rifles is truly disturbing and unnecessary," Bear said.

"There are legitimate concerns from First Nations that arming conservation officers with such weapons could potentially be disastrous."

Conservation officers have not discharged their sidearms, a use-of-force-tool, in the last 20 years, according to a government spokesperson.

Officers haven't fired sidearms in 20 years: spokesperson

Kevin Murphy, an Environment Ministry assistant deputy minister, said adding carbines to their arsenal won't change anything.

"Our officers are trained in decision making in use-of-force deployment, and they're trained in de-escalation, which is why, I believe, that they have not used [their sidearms] in 20 years," Murphy said.

Conservation officers take part in a three-and-a-half day course highlighting the proper use of firearms and the appropriate use of force, according to an information sheet distributed by the Ministry of Environment.

"Because of the nature of the work [conservation officers] are trained in defensive tactics, as well as practical shotgun and sidearm handling," the sheet read.

The assistant deputy minister said the training is mandated by the Saskatchewan Police College and part of the organizations police commission mandate. The training is given to all Canadian peace officers.

Murphy said due to their training, arming conservation officers with carbines would not increase tensions in rural Saskatchewan.

"They will not be carrying these carbines on a regular patrol," Murphy said. "They will be in their patrol vehicles."

Bear also stated she was concerned about the lack of consultation undertaken before the decision was made to equip conservation officers with carbines.

Murphy said the ministry does not typically engage with stakeholders before making a policing operational decision.

"Duty to consult is a very different thing in terms of case law and constitutional requirement," Murphy said.

"This is not about people's subsistence or treaty rights, so we have not engaged with any stakeholder group in making this decision."

Court decision after Moncton shooting was considered

Murphy said the ministry considered a court decision handed down after the 2014 Moncton shootings — in which three RCMP constables were killed and two others wounded —  found the RCMP did not provide adequate equipment for their officers.

"We looked at the risks, we looked at the court decision and what it implied for peace officers and have made a decision that our officers face similar risks and that we need to deploy similar weapons and body armour," Murphy said.

He said better equipping conservation officers makes them safer in the line of duty and that, in turn, will make the public safer.