UPDATE – August 13, 2019: Please join me and donate what you can. No amount is too small. If you can’t donate, please share this link. I believe these people deserve a full, fair and expert legal defense so that they can continue to protect themselves and our wildlife. Thank you to everyone who have already supported this initiative. https://www.gofundme.com/f/coquitlam-3-arrest-defense-fund?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet
UPDATE – August 8, 2019:
I have stated the BCCOS is not a police agency in BC. Many people have commented to me that the BCCOS is a provincial policing agency because they have certain appointments. I filed a complaint as if I was a general member of the public who had genuine concerns and wanted an independent review of the BCCOS actions. I filed as if they were a police agency.
August 7th – OPCC confirms in writing BCCOS is not a designated policing agency that falls within their jurisdiction for reviewing officer conduct.
August 7th, 2019 – IIO confirms BCCOS is not a policing agency. Unless a Conservation Officer kills someone or breaks someone’s bones, there is no review of conduct. “Basically, they are not a police force. It’s a gap in the current law, I hear you, but there is nothing we can do, our mandate is not triggered.”
August 8th, 2019 – Policy document regarding Conservation Officers acting as if they are police under certain appointments is reviewed. Sections commit the ministry to developing a regulation under the Police Act respecting the professional conduct and complaints procedures for the public. Police Act regulation never developed.
Current status: BCCOS is not a policing agency. The conduct of the BCCOS was supposed to have be formally legislated under the Police Act. It never happened. This would have also likely resulted in requirements for independent oversight. The BCCOS currently has the ability to dress and act like police officers but is not subjected to a legislated code of conduct or independent oversight body. The results are serious consequences to the fundamental principles of justice and charter of rights and freedoms. Policy is not law. While a person may file a complaint against a BCCOS officer as per a ministry policy, the BCCOS is responsible for self-investigating itself.
For immediate release
Names of witnesses removed here for public release.
August 5th 2019
Victoria – Following multiple interviews and communications with government staff, I have filed a complaint this evening to the BC Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) regarding the conduct of the BCCOS and the RCMP during the arrests of three individuals in Coquitlam on July 30th, 2019. As a result of the complaint which is now filed, I will be taking a break from social and online media in order to allow investigative processes to play out. Out of respect for the arrested parties I am asking the media to allow them space and privacy until they have retained appropriate legal counsel.
In my view, because one of the parties has publicly consented to the sharing of the video on his phone, there is no reason for the continued detention of his personal property. Because of the public nature of the allegations which have been made by the BCCOS, and the fact government personnel have training and ability to articulate and write notes and versions of events as they wish them to be known, it is important to me that witness accounts are told and reported in the absence of the video which was forcefully taken, given away, and not returned.
For those that have been following the story since last week, three people were arrested in Coquitlam for allegedly “obstructing” a Conservation Officer as he was chasing and attempting to kill a mother bear and her two baby cubs. There was a phone that was seized incidental to arrests which is believed to contain video of the situation. I became involved when the BC Conservation Officer Service’s (BCCOS) statements to the media lacked consistency. Beginning with CBC, it was stated that interfering with an officer as he is attempting to kill wildlife is an offence under the Wildlife Act (actually, there is no such offence provision). It was also stated the parties arrested were physically “obstructing” an officer. This story then changed to the parties merely verbally shouting and physically “present” at the scene. The BCCOS yet again changed the story to alleging the parties arrested had stepped between an officer and the bears he was chasing (witnesses say different). The BCCOS media liaison, on two occasions, personally told me that the arrests were made only by Conservation Officers, that the parties are being charged criminally for obstruction, that they refused multiple requests to not obstruct officers, and that this is a BCCOS investigation. The Detachment Commander of the Coquitlam RCMP backed up this story and told me personally that the RCMP made no arrests and did not read anyone their memorandum rights or seize the phone with video. It was stated to me, by the Detachment Commander, the RCMP were simply responding to a call for assistance from the BCCOS and that there was no police investigation being conducted into any of the arrested parties.
Most of this account, like many government spun narratives, turns out to not be quite accurate and, in my view, is nothing more than a bad situation made worse by a highly motivate and goal orientated BCCOS that has embarked not on a bear hunt, but a witch hunt of concerned citizens who are believed to have caught certain BCCOS outbursts on video.
The counter story
So, what did happen? It’s shocking. After multiple interviews, there seems to be painfully simple account of events. It has already been reported that the BCCOS had been trying for some time to apprehend a mother bear and her two cubs in Coquitlam. During the late afternoon of July 30th 2019, the BCCOS attended a Coquitlam neighborhood and a subsequent chase of the allusive bruins ensued. Hearing a commotion, it is my understanding some citizens then went outside. As reported already, there was some shouting that requested the BCCOS did not kill the baby bears. A woman, 61, stands in front of her home on the sidewalk. Another man, 68, stands watching. A third individual, male, 41 and with children, is filming outside his home. The attending Conservation Officer is reported by witnesses to have become agitated, at which point he begins screaming at people. He is stated to have ordered people to go inside their homes under threat of arrest. As was told to me by witnesses, nobody gets in the Conservation Officer’s way. Nobody follows him, touches him, or steps between him and the bears he was chasing. They just stand there, filming and verbally expressing concern.
The Conservation Officer in this case stands well over 6 feet tall and weighs in excess of 250 lbs. He is dressed in black, has multiple firearms on his person at the time, and is wearing full body armour. It could be argued, based on witness accounts, that he appeared more like an irate armored gorilla than Conservation Officer – towering in comparison to the two elderly citizens and the children reportedly present. Next, he then marches off into a wooded area. Shots ring out. As has already been released on a neighbour’s video, citizens express horror. As one affected party reported to me, the eldest man on the street begins to walk home, visually traumatized, cell phone in hand. Affected parties have told me they believe the Conservation Officer wanted all phones which were present.
Within mere minutes, the Conservation Officer then re-emerges from the bush, fresh from participating in the killing of a mother bear and her baby cubs. Witnesses report he was wild-eyed and screaming like a crazy man, “as if he had lost all control”. He is then alleged to have begun screaming in an inaudible manner at the elderly man walking home. The man turns, the Conservation Officer then charges him, openly brandishing one of his service weapons in the process. Witnesses say the elderly man was wearing flip flops and likely feared for his life. The elderly man ran a short distance home and made it to his porch steps. The Conservation Officer, now moving from bear chasing to human chasing, is reported to be in hot pursuit.
The Conservation Officer then enters the private property of the elderly citizen. The Conservation Officer rushes him and grabs him by the shirt, just as the elderly man attempts to step onto his porch and escape into his home for safety. The Conservation Officer then drags the senior citizen from his porch, through his own front lawn, and back out to the street. As was told to me personally, the elderly man is stumbling, grasping for stability. He is crying for help and begging for the Conservation Officer to let him go.
The RCMP arrive, responding to a complaint that citizens were obstructing the Conservation Officer. The RCMP handcuff and arrest all three individuals based solely on the Conservation Officer’s allegation that he was being obstructed. As has been widely reported, a cell phone, containing video of at least part of the encounter, is forcefully seized by the RCMP. The RCMP read all parties memorandum rights. The RCMP release the parties and determine this is not a policing matter, nor will the police be conducting any investigation criminal or otherwise. The RCMP, instead of returning the phone, give it to the Conservation Officer who then decides he is going to criminally charge the parties with obstruction and do his own investigation into the matter on behalf of the BCCOS. The parties are given a Notice to Appear in court by the Conservation Officer.
Nobody stops and questions if the Conservation Officer was actually acting as a peace officer under the Wildlife Act during the incident, or if he had acted appropriately, reasonably, and lawfully. There is no legislation review to ensure arrests and seizures are lawful – it is a presumption. There is no preliminary investigation or interviews conducted by the RCMP as the initial arresting agency. The parties are faced with life altering circumstances and criminal charges.
The next morning, once the seriousness of what happened sunk in at Victoria BCCOS headquarters, in my view, the spin machine probably realized that there is nothing more powerful than alleging someone is a criminal. Say it, say it first, discredit the parties involved, and get the media going on the Conservation Officer’s version of events – In my opinion, that appears to be what they did. No investigation, no interviews, no presumption of innocence, straight to publicly accusing the parties involved. The problem? Journalists ask questions, and some of them asked good questions. So, the government story had to morph and change until they just couldn’t comment any more.
As there is no police investigation and the parties have been released by the police, it was inappropriate for the police to give the seized phone away without judicial authorization. The phone needs to be immediately returned. The RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission should investigate the lawfulness of the phone seizure and transfer.
I am requesting the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner investigate the allegation of a Conservation Officer forcefully dragging a senior citizen from his property as I do not believe the individual was properly placed under a lawful arrest, nor do I believe the Conservation Officer to be acting in any formal capacity as a peace officer at the time. To the contrary, in my view, the Conservation Officer was fulfilling an administrative wildlife management function unrelated to any investigation of offences under the Wildlife Act involving the elderly man.
If the BCCOS wishes to dress and behave like a formal policing agency (which they are not), then a fundamental principle of justice requires that they be subjected to independent oversight and accountability mechanisms. The BCCOS seeks to blame citizens and avoid any accountability for its actions, choosing instead to chase down senior citizens and drag them from their own homes in an assaultive and appalling manner. Attractant management is one issue, the BCCOS maintaining discipline, order, and composure within its ranks is another.
Bears are eerily similar to humans in both anatomy and behaviour. The unaccountable nature of the BCCOS killing actions is a slippery and dangerous slope which places real human lives in the crosshairs of armed public servants who are wearing police like uniforms but have no independent oversight.