Former Conservation Officer fired for refusing to kill bear cubs uses PhD research to win in court - InfoNews

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Former Conservation Officer fired for refusing to kill bear cubs uses PhD research to win in court

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June 05, 2020 - 6:00 PM

A former Vancouver Island B.C. conservation officer who made headlines in 2015 after he was dismissed for refusing to kill two bear cubs, has completed a Ph.D. and used his research to win his case in the B.C. Court of Appeal.

A three-judge panel ruled June 4 that the legal process had been flawed and Bryce Casavant's dismissal and subsequent union action should all be nullified, effectively wiping the slate clean of four years of legal battles.

B.C. Court of Appeal ruling leaves Casavant in a somewhat peculiar position, as it didn't order the Conservation Officer Service to reinstate him, as would normally happen in a labour dispute, but ruled all previous legal action wasn't valid.

"I don't know what that means for me in the future moving forward," Casavant told iNFOnews.ca. "So at this time I can't make any further comment."

Casavant's legal woes started in 2015 when he disobeyed an order to euthanize two bear cubs after a complaint came in they were eating food from a freezer at a Port Hardy mobile home. He did euthanize the mother but then took the cubs to a vet and arranged for the cubs to be given to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association. The cubs were later successfully released into the wild.

Casavant was suspended following the incident and his union negotiated with the provincial government and had him moved to another department. The court decision says his loss of Conservation Officer Status is defined as a dismissal. He later quit working for the government and is now employed by the conservation group Pacific Wild.

A petition at the time received more than 300,000 supporters and urged the Ministry to reinstate him.

Casavant said roughly two months after he was suspended he was accepted to do a Ph.D. at Royal Roads University in Victoria. He even secured two years of federal government funding to complete it.

One aspect of his post-doctoral dissertation looked into the history of the Conservation Officer Service. Another part of the research was then submitted to the Court of Appeal which accepted his research to be used in court as part of his legal argument.

Casavant argued in court that the Labour Relations Board had no legal authority over his dismissal, and the Supreme Court judge who ruled against him in 2018 made a mistake because the court didn't have jurisdiction over the matter. As a Conservation Officer, Casavant argued the fate of his dismissal had to be addressed under the Police Act and not a union bargaining contract.

Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon, along with Justice Peter Wilcox and Justice John Hunter agreed.

"The court must do its best with the tangled knot created by the parties in adopting a flawed procedure. In my view, the best that can be done in these circumstances is to declare that the proceedings before the arbitrator and Board were a nullity," Justice Fenlon said in the decision.

Justice Fenlon says Casavant's dismissal should have been addressed under the Police Act, and the court will now leave the parties to "sort out the consequences of those declarations."

The Justice ruled Casavant is entitled to the costs of the appeal and the earlier judicial review against the Ministry.

So would Casavant still have chosen not to kill the bear cubs if he knew where it would lead?

"I've always maintained... given the same circumstances and provided with the same information that I had in the field on that day I would make the same decision now, all things being equal," he said.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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