Conservation officer who refused to euthanize bear cubs won’t get job back; ‘no way to unravel tangled fabric,’ court rules

photo Joe Mabel (original image cropped)

Nearly eight years after he was effectively dismissed from his position, a former conservation officer failed to win his job back following a recent Court of Appeal decision.

Bryce J. Casavant had been working for B.C. Conservation Officer Service for two years when he was dispatched to Port Moody in July 2015 following reports of a mother bear eating from an outdoor freezer.

A COS supervisor asked Casavant to euthanize the sow and two cubs.


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Casavant concluded the cubs hadn’t eaten the food and, “therefore declined to follow his supervisor’s instructions,” according to the court judgment.

The sow was killed and the cubs were taken to a wildlife recovery centre.

Casavant has maintained his refusal to euthanize the cubs was: “an appropriate exercise of his independent judgment as a special provincial constable.”

“His superiors did not see it that way,” noted Justice Christopher Grauer.

Casavant was transferred to the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations, earning the same salary and benefits. He challenged the dismissal and the B.C. General Employees’ Union filed grievances on his behalf.

However, before arbitration wrapped up, Casavant, his employer, and the union signed a settlement agreement in February 2016.

Casavant tried to re-open the matter via judicial review. However, in January 2021 the court opted to: “leave the parties to sort out the consequences” relating to the settlement agreement.

“The parties were unable to sort it out,” Grauer wrote.

Casavant eventually filed a petition with B.C. Supreme Court, arguing his dismissal was unlawful and he should get his job back.

His petition was dismissed, in part because the judge found it would be “impracticable to unwind the settlement agreement to restore the parties to a position from which they had long moved on,” Grauer wrote.

The judge concluded Casavant was bound by the settlement agreement, noting the former conservation officer: “received reimbursement for his educational expenses, in exchange for his full and final release of all claims related to his employment” with COS.

In taking the matter to the Court of Appeal, Casavant argued his employer had no right to transfer him to a new position and never made a proper complaint.

“The passage of time, he argues, is no reason to bless, in hindsight, the engagement of the employer and the union in a procedure which they had no lawful right to engage,” Grauer summarized.

The underlying logic of Casavant’s argument is that he was wrongfully dismissed, Grauer wrote, noting the former conservation officer correctly complained he was denied the chance to vindicate his actions regarding the bear cubs.

“But, equally, the province has been denied an opportunity to establish its position; in short, the merits have never been decided one way or the other,” Grauer wrote.

While Casavant had to deal with flawed proceedings, “both sides made compromises and accepted benefits,” Grauer wrote. “The reality is that the agreement resolved not merely the grievance process, but the entire matter of Mr. Casavant’s employment with the province.”

Grauer also wrote that there was no error in the previous judge’s decision that unwinding the previous arrangement would be impracticable.

“It could be said of Mr. Casavant’s case that, ‘there appears to be no entirely satisfactory way to unravel the tangled fabric which the parties and the events have woven,’” Grauer wrote, likening the matter to another judgment.

Grauer dismissed Casavant’s appeal. Two other justices concurred.


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