A former B.C. conservation officer who was fired for refusing to kill two bear cubs is being taken back to court by his own union after winning a BC Court of Appeal decision earlier this year.
The BC Government and Employees’ Services Union (BCGEU), the union that represents conservation officers in B.C., has filed an application for leave to appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada and has served Bryce Casavant copies of the court applications, naming him as a respondent.
Casavant said he was “absolutely gutted” to receive the application.
“[The union] should be standing up for me and my family,” he said in a press release. “They should be supporting me. My family is being dragged back into very expensive litigation simply because a union is more interested in protecting its executive and lawyers than it is in representing its membership.”
Stephanie Smith, president of the BCGEU, said in an interview with the Alberni Valley News that the application is not about Casavant, but about the BC Court of Appeal’s decision, which has left other union members in a “labour relations limbo” as provincial special constables.
“They aren’t protected by their collective agreement and all the things we bargain for,” said Smith. “They are out on a limb with no clear direction as to how to go about a disciplinary process.”
In a later interview, Casavant pointed out that he has been named as a respondent in the court application.
“It most certainly is about me,” he said. “Why does their collective agreement take priority over my personal rights?”
Casavant says that BC conservation officers are considered special constables by the province and therefore should be governed under the province’s Police Act—not a union.
“Because [conservation officers] hold office, they’re not making decisions as an employee of a company,” he said. “It’s not a collective agreement matter. The courts do not want labour arbitrators determining what a constable’s duties are. It creates a framework where you could unlawfully remove constables from their position because you don’t like what they’re doing.”
However, Smith argues that the process outlined in the Police Act for provincial special constables is a “skeletal” one.
“We’re looking for clarity,” she emphasized. “We’re hoping that through appeal it will be determined that a union can represent its members during a disciplinary process and collective agreement language can be used.”
It was back in July 2015 when Casavant received a provincial kill order for two bear cubs while he was working as a BC Conservation Officer in Port Hardy. He declined the order and instead transported the cubs to a veterinarian and the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre. The two cubs, later named Jordan and Athena, were eventually released back into the wild.
Casavant was fired over the incident, but after a five-year legal battle before the BC Labour Relations Board and the BC Supreme Court, the BC Court of Appeal finally sided with Casavant in a unanimous decision, ruling that the legal process was flawed and Casavant’s dismissal should be nullified.
Casavant, who now lives in Port Alberni, said he has hired Arden Beddoes with Beddoes Litigation in Vancouver to prepare a formal response for filing in the Supreme Court of Canada. The deadline for this response is Oct. 15, but he is hoping to file it sooner.
“We’re basically going to argue that the union never raised this argument before the BC Court of Appeal,” said Casavant. “So why are they disputing it now?”
The Province of BC has also been named as a respondent by the union but has not filed its official position in court.
In the meantime, Casavant is still working out with lawyers whether or not he is still considered a conservation officer. Although the BC Court of Appeal said Casavant’s dismissal should be nullified, it did not order for him to be reinstated.
“My position is that the nullification means I should be back at work,” he said. “I’m in a little bit of a limbo.”