A former B.C. conservation officer says the service and the RCMP overstepped their bounds by seizing phones during a dispute with Coquitlam residents over a family of bears.
Three people were arrested and charged with obstruction Tuesday after allegedly trying to stop conservation officers from destroying the bears, who had been tracked into a residential neighbourhood.
WATCH: (Aired July 31) Three arrested for allegedly interfering with conservation officers
After the three residents were arrested, their phones were seized by RCMP officers, who handed them off to the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (COS). As of Friday, the phones have yet to be returned.
That doesn’t sit well with Bryce Casavant, who says holding onto the phones when there’s no criminal investigation is illegal.
“These individuals were released, and RCMP has informed me there is no criminal police investigation being conducted,” he said. “So where’s their property?
“I don’t believe [giving the phones to COS] was appropriate under these circumstances.”
LISTEN: Former CO not happy with Coquitlam conservation officer dispute
According to the COS, the residents repeatedly got in the way of COs who were trying to prompt the bears up a tree to tranquilize them, refusing to move while filming the scene.
Conservation Officer Murray Smith said Wednesday the three were arrested and charged with obstruction under the B.C. Wildlife Act, and two of their cell phones were seized as evidence of a criminal offence.
While Casavant understands the scene was “highly emotional,” he thinks the seizures went too far.
WATCH: (Aired July 31) Coquitlam residents arrested while protesting bear killing
“I think it’s been an overreaction,” he said. “Now, as a result of the police involvement, we now have potentially what may be unlawful seizures and charter issues with people having their personal property taken away from them, when they ought not to have.”
Casavant has seen controversy before. In 2015, the then-conservation officer was suspended and later removed from service after refusing to euthanize two orphaned bear cubs in Port Hardy.
The case turned Casavant into a folk hero for environmentalists and celebrities, including Ricky Gervais, who posted on Twitter the COS should “reinstate this honourable man.”
The NDP later tapped Casavant to run against B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver in the 2017 provincial election. He ultimately placed third in the vote.
Casavant is now using his social media following to demand the COS return the phones, accusing the service and the RCMP of a “cover up.”
Coquitlam RCMP and the COS refused to comment on the case Friday.
Public complaint filed
One of the residents arrested, Tony Faccin, has filed a public complaint with the RCMP in an attempt to get his phone back.
He says he was in the back of a police car in handcuffs when the officer up front asked him to show the video he took of the incident, and brought out his phone to play it.
WATCH: (Aired July 31) 3 arrested in Coquitlam for protesting killing of bear family
Faccin says he hasn’t gotten a straight answer about where his phone is, and has even heard RCMP is denying they ever arrested him.
He claims the COs and RCMP have not assured him the video will still be on the phone if it’s returned and likely don’t want the video released to the public, saying it shows officers in a negative light.
“It’s going to show how angry the officers were and how they were behaving, how they were treating my neighbours and myself,” he said. “These guys were so charged up and angry, and they were running around with shotguns.”
Faccin says he’s due to appear in court on Oct. 28 to face an additional charge of obstruction of a peace officer under the Criminal Code, along with the charge under the wildlife act.
— With files from Jordan Armstrong, Neetu Garcha and Simon Little