June 1, 2015 3:00 pm
Updated: June 1, 2015 5:50 pm

Here’s why the Newmarket bear was shot (and the next one could be too)

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WATCH ABOVE: A black bear that had been wandering through a Toronto neighbourhood was shot by police. They say they had no choice, but the people who watched it all unfold say otherwise. Jennifer Tryon reports.

It took the Ministry of Natural Resources over two hours to respond to a bear roaming around a Newmarket neighbourhood Monday morning despite knowing about it all weekend.

Police had killed the bear before ministry staff arrived and an animal welfare activist says a lack of resources could lead to more bears being shot by police.

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“It seemed to me like there was not a reason to shoot the bear when it was shot,” Liz White, a board member of Animal Alliance said in an interview Monday.

The ministry has a Bear Wise program that allows people to call in and report a bear. White said it used to include a certification program that would help communities become “bear wise,” and to have staff trained to deal with nuisance bears.

But now the ministry relies on police to deal with bears, White said, leading to more bears than necessary being shot.

“So what we have is what we find in Newmarket, is that it’s left up to the local police largely and most police officers that I’ve talked to, all through the north, don’t really know bears,” White said.

“They look at this big animal and not understanding its behaviour feel that it might be unpredictable and therefore unsafe.”

Newmarket falls within the ministry’s Aurora district which does have four people trained to deal with bears.  And, the ministry has always relied on police to deal with bears that are a public safety risk, like the one in Newmarket allegedly was.

“If it’s a public safety risk, then the police should be dealing with (it). They’ve always done that and we’ve always worked on that method,” Jolanta Kowalski, a senior media relations spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources said.

Ministry policy dictates that the bear be “stationary” before a team even gets ready to respond.

“I was on the phone with the police over the course of the weekend, in order for us to respond, though to chemically immobilize a bear to capture, it has to be stationary,” Ministry of Natural Resources supervisor John Almond told reporters in Newmarket Monday.

The ministry waits until a bear is “stationary” or when the bear is “confined” because it is the safest way of tranquilizing a bear.

“Up until this point, the bear had just been running from yard to yard, it wasn’t even seen from yesterday morning at 8:30.”

The Ministry of Natural Resources breaks bear sightings into two categories; emergency and non-emergency encounters. A “bear roaming around, checking garbage cans” is a non-emergency.

“Our hope is that the bear will find its way out,” Kowalski said.

“Find the green space it came in on and get its way back out, and that’s the end of it. You can’t have a lot of people chasing it around while it’s moving, that’s not overly effective.”

The bear wandered into the backyard of a home shortly after 6 a.m. Monday after being tracked by York Regional Police. The bear climbed a tree, and York police called the ministry. Ministry officials arrived over two hours later.

”We have a lot of equipment that has to come, we have staff that has specialized training that have to be available so that’s what’s required,” Almond said.

WATCH: Footage captures moment police shoot Newmarket bear stuck in tree

“It wouldn’t have made sense to have people running around not knowing that we’d need them,” he said later.

The staff began to mobilize as soon as the bear was stationary and it took nearly two hours to get to the site because the people had to make it to their office, gather their equipment (some of which, like the tranquilizer drugs, are locked up), and then head to Newmarket.

Ministry officials said they told police their team was on the way but the bear began to come down the tree and police deemed it a growing public safety alert – so police shot the bear.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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