Vancouver city council will vote on banning the sale and use of so-called “bear bangers” at a council meeting next week.
The explosive noise-makers are traditionally used by resource workers and back-country users to scare off bears.
But the Vancouver Police Department, City of Vancouver and residents have all reported a surge in the number of devices being set off in downtown areas in the last four months. They’re frequently mistaken for gunshots.
Police say there have also been multiple incidents in which bear bangers have been strapped together or stuffed with ball bearings to create improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
A staff report to council cites two disturbing IED incidents.
In one case, police say an IED was found strapped to the underside of a stuffed toy in a downtown Vancouver park.
In another incident, an IED was strapped to the wall of a downtown building and detonated, shaking the building.
Global News has requested more information from the VPD.
But during a walkalong with Global News earlier this month, VPD Insp. Rob Clarke said a man had been recently charged after being caught with multiple bear bangers taped together and stuffed with ball bearings.
“Fortunately he never used it, although it did tie up traffic in the downtown westside for a number of hours,” he said.
“Businesses had to be evacuated, we had to call in our bomb specialists, they had to come out with robots and X-ray it and it did turn out to be a real bomb… had that gone off it could have caused a lot of property damage and injury.”
According to the report, bear banger complaints to 311 went from zero in April to 96 in May and 81 last month.
Complaints to the VPD went from three in March, to 149 in May and 162 in June.
Neighbours have complained about hearing explosions at all hours, and police have said catching the offenders red-handed has proven difficult.
Regulating bear bangers
There are currently no federal restrictions on the sale of exploding animal deterrents if their contents are under 1,000 kilograms — though setting them off for any purpose other than animal deterrence is illegal.
The devices are not recommended as a way to deter animals by BC Parks or the BC Conservation Officer Service.
Consumers can buy bear bangers without providing any personal information or signing a waiver. The devices are widely available at outdoor retailers, with a pack of six selling for about $20.
Bear spray, by contrast, is regulated as a pesticide in Canada. Retailers must record a buyer’s name and address and the quantity sold, and obtain a signed purchase agreement including a liability warning.
City staff have recommended council ban the sale of bear bangers outright, rather than regulating them like bear spray.
The report notes that bear bangers don’t have serial numbers, meaning they can’t be traced back to the buyer.
Legitimate users would still be able to buy them online or in other municipalities, states the report.
Under the proposal, people caught selling the devices could be fined $1,000 or prosecuted.
Council is scheduled to debate the idea on Tuesday.