CALGARY — After years of controversy, wardens newly trained in the use of handguns will soon begin patrolling Canada’s national parks under a restructured regime that reduces the number of armed enforcement officers in the field.
Parks Canada, the federal agency that runs the warden service, was ordered to arm wardens with sidearms for reasons of personal safety. Instead of arming all 425 members, the agency set up a designated force of up to 100 to deal with poaching, illegal hunting and other violations of parks rules. The remaining 325 are unarmed and charged with fire management, public safety, search and rescue, ecological research and wildlife management.
The warden service union fears the 100 armed wardens will be stretched too thinly across Canada’s 42 national parks to be effective, a claim disputed by Parks Canada.
Formerly, all members of the warden service were trained in enforcement and in the use of rifles and shotguns, but not sidearms.
“If you look at the numbers, it doesn’t make any sense,” says Daniel Kinsella, president of the national component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
Bill Fisher, the head of western operations for Parks Canada, said the agency is confident the number of armed wardens is adequate. Their main areas of responsibility are enforcement of the National Parks Act and Species at Risk Act. Criminal Code violations, such as drug crimes, will be handled by the RCMP.
For operational reasons, Fisher said the agency is not making public the specific numbers of armed wardens in each park.
“There will be more in the places where there is higher visitation, so obviously the mountain parks and the Pacific Rim, but they will be located in every province and territory across the country,” he said. “It is all based on an analysis of our law enforcement requirements.”
Kinsella said about 50 to 60 armed wardens have been trained to date. Fisher confirmed the full contingent of 100 will not be deployed at once.
“Right at the moment, we don’t see the need to have 100 out on location right away. We are putting them where they are most needed based on our analysis.”
The majority of the armed service will be in place by the May long weekend, he added.
Parks Canada was ordered to issue wardens with sidearms after a safety complaint in 2000 by Banff park warden Doug Martin. A federal ruling agreed with Martin and said the agency had to give wardens handguns or remove them from enforcement duties for reasons of personal safety.
Wardens are being issued with a Heckler and Koch P2000 pistol.
According to a review on the law enforcement website policeone.com, the German-made handgun is “a solid, reliable duty weapon” that “meets and exceeds the criteria for an all-around issue duty pistol.”
Recently, an international non-profit organization, The Thin Green Line, held a series of fundraisers for the families of park rangers killed in the line of duty, with most of the money going to support the widows of Congolese rangers killed protecting gorillas in eastern Congo.
By Robert Remington, Calgary Herald
March 31, 2009
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