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Report recommends arming B.C.'s natural resource officers

A B.C. natural resource officer conducts a compliance verification inspection in this undated photo.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations
April 03, 2019 - 4:00 PM

A rapidly evolving branch of the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources is falling behind in arming its officers, according to a consultant's report.

Natural resource officers play a critical role in enforcing provincial regulations and compliance of B.C’s natural resource legislation, and should be provided with defensive weapons in the form of a baton and pepper spray, the report recommends.

The report, completed by Joel Johnston Consulting Inc. in 2018, dealt with the need for additional personal protective equipment for the province’s 150 natural resource officers. It was recently made public through a freedom of information request.

The natural resource officer position is one that has “ostensibly evolved since 2010 into a fully-uniformed compliance and enforcement agency,” the report stated, accusing the ministry’s compliance and enforcement branch of falling short of the mark in terms of properly equipping natural resource officers with the “appropriate complement of personal protective equipment commensurate with the risks they face.”

The report identifies such risks as officers working alone in remote areas, dealing with potentially unpredictable human behaviour connected with an individual who may have violent tendencies, who may be mentally unstable or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

When contacted with an interview request, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development responded with a written statement.

The ministry said the officers are stationed in Kamloops, Vernon and Penticton for the Thompson-Okanagan region, but are most often found in the field, anywhere accessible by 4x4, ATV, snowmobile, helicopter or hiking.

Not to be confused with conservation officers, the natural resource officers' job is to educate the public, encourage compliance and enforce 52 pieces of legislation under numerous natural resource acts, including the Wildfire Act, the Land Act, Water Sustainability Act, Forest and Range Practices Act, Off-Road Vehicle Act and the Forest Act.

The ministry said the officers are trained to handle conflict situations and are taught when and how to disengage, using self defence tactics. They evaluate potential risks and are trained not to engage in unsafe situations.

“It’s worth noting that there has never been an incident in which a natural resource officer has pressed charges for being assaulted,” the statement said.

The ministry said the consultant’s report focused on policing and didn’t include a review of personal protective equipment carried by other law enforcement agencies that do not have the power of arrest and "the Compliance and Enforcement Branch is currently conducting that review.”

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