Union challenges court win by Island conservation officer fired for saving bear cubs

The conservation officer who captured international headlines in 2015 for refusing to kill two bear cubs and won his court case arguing that he was then terminated improperly faces a new legal challenge by his own union.

Bryce Casavant won his case at the B.C. Court of Appeal June 4 in a unanimous decision that ruled the B.C. Labour Relations Board didn’t have the authority to rule on a matter that should have been dealt with under the B.C. Police Act.

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“It’s being thrust back into the unknown,” Casavant said Sunday. “I was pretty confident before the Court of Appeal that the concepts of constabulary discipline that I was advancing were well-established.”

The B.C. Government Service and Employees Union, however, has filed a request for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada challenging that ruling upends “years of labour relations between the employer [the province] and union.”

Casavant made the news as a conservation officer in 2015 for refusing the order of a superior to euthanize two bear cubs whose mother he had to kill after she had entered a home near Port Hardy.

Arguing he had discretion over what to do with them, he took the cubs to a veterinarian, who assessed and transferred them to an animal rescue organization that later released them into the wild.

He was deemed “unsuitable for the job of conservation officer,” and moved to a job in the Ministry of Forests without the status of special constable.

The BCGEU initially filed a grievance in the case, but eventually reached a settlement with the province, which Casavant asked to be set aside. Casavant then fought and lost a judicial review at the B.C. Supreme Court.

However, on appeal, a panel of the B.C. Court of Appeal decided in his favour, ruling that the Labour Board “does not have jurisdiction over Mr. Casavant’s dismissal,” according to the decision written by Judge Lauri Ann Fenlon on behalf of the panel.

Now, Casavant said, his “own union has turned on me” by appealing the decision of B.C.’s highest court. “It is gut wrenching.”

In its application, BCGEU counsel argue that the Court of Appeal decision creates confusion for its members with special provincial constable status facing discipline, replacing the robust grievance and arbitration mechanism under their collective agreement “with a skeletal process” in regulations under the Police Act.

“The decision is inconsistent with decades of jurisprudence in which arbitrators [at the B.C. Labour Relations Board] have taken jurisdiction over the discipline and discharge of employees with special provincial constable status,” the application reads.

Casavant said he argued from the outset that arbitration under the BCGEU collective agreement was the wrong venue to discipline him for matters that fell under his duties as a special constable.

“I told the union before this arbitration ever started,” Casavant said. “I said ‘this is an unlawful process, I’m entitled to be treated under the Police Act.’ ”

Casavant has until Oct. 15 to file a response to the Supreme Court of Canada before it considers whether to hear the BCGEU appeal.

His lawyer, Arden Beddoes, said his response will focus on a couple of points that won’t re-argue Casavant’s case, which he doesn’t need to do at this stage.

“A lot of what the union is saying in their application for leave to appeal are things that they did not say at the Court of Appeal,” Beddoes said.

Secondly, he said, the union’s contention that the decision represented “a sea change in the law,” has already been refuted by legal precedents dating back to the 1980s that Casavant raised in his appeal.

“The reality is that it’s just a very inconvenient decision, I think, for both the union and the province,” Beddoes said.

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