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Court upholds B.C. conservation officers’ rights to euthanize wildlife

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B.C.’s top court has dismissed a case from an animal advocacy group challenging the power of the Conservation Officers Service (COS) to euthanize animals at its discretion.

The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals had gone to the B.C. Court of Appeal over a 2016 incident in which an officer put down a black bear cub near Dawson Creek, despite a wildlife centre offering to take the animal in.

READ MORE: Power of B.C. conservation officers to euthanize wildlife challenged in court

The B.C. Supreme Court had previously sided with the COS over its right to decide when an animal should be destroyed. In the 2016 case, the officer in question had concluded the animal was too malnourished.

Fur-Bearers lawyer Arden Beddoes argued the conservation officer acted outside the scope of his duties, but the court of appeal disagreed.

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“The court said that it could not determine based on the hearing when an officer is engaged in the performance of its duties. And because of that, the court said it could not delineate exactly when a conservation officer may or may not kill animals,” Beddoes said.

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“It’s become a political issue because right now even the highest court in the province could not provide precise clarity on whether and when a conservation officer may kill animals.”

The Fur-Bearers have argued that while there is no question of the COS’ right to kill animals when they are a threat, that power doesn’t necessarily extend to animals in other circumstances.

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The Ministry of Environment said the ruling confirms its understanding of the the Wildlife Act.

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“Not a single conservation officer relishes the thought of having to put down an animal – euthanization is a last resort,” wrote a ministry spokesperson in an emailed statement.

The ministry says officers make decisions in the field based on provincial wildlife policy, along with personal experience and expertise.

The Fur-Bearers can seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, but have yet to decide whether they will proceed with the challenge.

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