It’s an old story now. Years ago a Canadian Wildlife Agent was ordered to kill two orphaned bear cubs. The agent refused. Instead the man took the cubs to a wildlife rehab center. In the center’s care the bears were raised and eventually released back into the wild. Of course, the wildlife agent suffered the consequences of disobedience but things ended up pretty ok for him too.
The Wildlife Agent who defied orders is Bryce Casavant, military veteran, politician and now graduate student. I interviewed Bryce a while back, asking him about the reasons behind his acts of disobedience as well as his philosophy of wildlife conservation/environmentalism.
Bryce had a lot of interesting things to say and after long considering what to do with the interview he gave me, I decided just to post it on here, both my questions and his answers. Enjoy and if you like what you read here, I encourage you to check out Bryce Casavant’s website as well.
You first came to the public’s attention by refusing to kill two orphaned bear cubs, instead taking them to a wildlife veterinarian. Was this the first time you had to make such a tough call? Related to that, how has that decision shaped your views going forward; what did you learn from the situation and how you handled it? Do you feel vindicated in your actions now years later?
- I prefer say, “respectfully declined” J
- My previous military service has definitely shaped my views regarding what is and what is not a lawful order. I served in Afghanistan as a Police Operational Mentor, teaching foreign police forces. I suppose as a senior police instructor I have very strong views regarding authority figures within a chain of command believing they can order armed personnel to kill (human or otherwise). I’ve worked in 6 different countries training military and police personnel both as a Canadian government employee and later as a defence contractor. Aside from military qualifications, I’m certified as a provincial police firearms instructor here in BC, I hold a POST certification in Colorado as an advanced sniper, and I was fortunate to attend SWAT school in the US with a prominent Sheriff’s office.
- Ordering people to kill in a domestic policing context is not a thing – it is, in my view, an unlawful directive that has grave consequences for broader society. I know this view sounds like counter to what we see on television and in the news but in this age of un-reason I believe it is important to firmly understand what public service is, why we arm people in our society, and what being a police constable really means in a public service sense.
- Having worked in both capacities, there is a big difference between domestic policing and military service. I fear our policing services have mission creeped into paramilitary forces that adopt a militaristic approach to what should be community service at home. In this way, I think we promote more fear that we do provide solutions.
- Don’t get me wrong, I advocate for armed policing in today’s world – but with caution.
- This is the backdrop.
- So, with a decade of armed experience prior to receiving the kill order (and now pushing sixteen years in law enforcement), I felt I was on firm ground to respectfully decline the kill order given – and I suffered for it.
- In BC, Section 79 of the Wildlife Act makes it the officer’s responsibility to kill or not to kill. It is a “may” clause or what we call a “discretionary clause.”
- I exercised my discretion not to kill. My actions were rooted in law and fully within my authority to do so.
- The province also has a wildlife policy which states that if bear cubs are captured they are to receive a medical and behavior assessment. I therefore followed that policy and brought them to a veterinarian and then transferred them to a re-habilitation center for further behavioral assessment.
- I was removed from my job as a constable the next morning for “neglect of duty.” The “duty” being killing and the “neglect” being me not doing it.
- Did morals and ethics come into play? Of course. I have a young daughter who was 2 and a half at the time and I just could not bring myself to kill two baby bears for no reason; especially in the absence of any justifiable public safety concern. So, while my discretionary decision was rooted in law and my authorities as a provincial constable, ultimately it was also coloured by common sense and ethical behavior as an armed officer of the Provincial Crown who took an Oath to protect her Majesty’s subjects and property (wildlife being the property of the Crown in all commonwealth jurisdictions).
- It doesn’t get any more Canadian than that!
- Within my military service I have made many tough calls before. Again, while working as a provincial constable I also made many tough calls. Probably a rabbit hole of stories here…J
- Learnings? Same as I always teach new officers – referencing bullets – the Queen owns it when it’s in the gun and you own it when it leaves. It’s ok and indeed your duty to sometimes say “no.” But be prepared to be held accountable for every decision you make whether you shoot or don’t. Policing can be a thankless job.
- Vindication? Nobody ever truly wins in these things. On my side, the emotional, financial, and personal career toll that decision had will never be fully recovered from.
Was your decision to save the cubs related to a systematic thought process? Did you have some sort of philosophy guiding your approach or were you just reacting on a gut level to something you felt was wrong?
- Legal, mostly.
- Moral and ethical colouring.
- See above.
To put things into context, did you find the order to euthanize the two cubs unusual?
- Ordering people to kill is not a thing.
- Highly unusual and the very fact someone in a position of authority thought it was appropriate to issue such a directive is evidence of a deeper problem.
- We sorted out kill orders in the Nuremberg trials.
- It does not matter if it is a human or not – under no circumstances should any officer be ordered to kill. The autonomy and independence and accountability of the decision making process becomes eroded if we allow such orders to be acceptable. This has massive consequences for society and is a huge slippery slope.
We’re you surprised by the amount of media attention put on the cubs you saved and why do you think it captured the public attention so much?
- Yes! And it still hasn’t ended!
- I didn’t even have a Facebook account at the time.
- I got shoved into the modern digital era.
You continue to promote protection of wildlife and forests through your writings in print and on your own website. You’ve run for political office. You’re also pursuing a doctoral degree. How are these things and how you see your life going forward connected to your past, especially your time as a conservation officer and your decision to defy orders to kill the cubs?
- The longer I’m in government the more concerned I become.
- The more I learn the more I realize how little I actually know about the inner workings of bureaucracy. The term “corruption” doesn’t even really begin to describe the intricacies of how bad things have become – it’s too soft. Things in BC are worse than mere “corruption.”
- A simple online search will show you the New York Times reporting on our political donation issues. Another search on recent money laundering findings and their impacts to domestic real estate, homelessness, and housing affordability issues is even more shocking. You could search again and find our overdoses and drug related deaths of our youth at an all-time high. And against this backdrop state sponsored killings of our wildlife and removal of our old growth forests charges ahead.
- Our province is wearing out one social thread at a time. Our collective stitching is coming apart and the stuffing is starting to show.
- I see wildlife and forestry advocacy as my small contribution in a dark world. I feel as though I have an obligation to educate people on critical issues, to explain and teach accountable decision making and to help citizens hold their government accountable.
- I didn’t ask to be placed in this position 4 years ago – but since I’m here I might as well push forward and rip the Band-Aid off (that’s the old soldier in me talking). But while ripping the covering off I maintain a measured conversation (that’s the constable in me balancing myself out).
- Continuing with my education has helped shape my thoughts as a practitioner-scholar. I have a desire to share what I’ve learned in the field and what I’ve discovered in academia – an intersection of reality and theory.
What do you see as the major problems facing wildlife, ecosystems and the human relationship with non-humans? What do you see as the root of the environmental problems we face now all over the world?
- Loaded question! I could go in so many directions here.
- Simply, I think it all boils down to radical individuality within human centered thinking.
- De-centering the human and building our capacity to care and understand shared specie boundaries and inter-specie socialscapes is a path to begin understanding and accepting the other.
Do you consider yourself part of the compassionate conservation movement? If so how do you define the goals and ideals of a compassionate conservationist? What sets this movement and its philosophy towards conservation science apart from other conservation movements and ideas?
- Clearly many of the underpinning philosophies of compassionate conservation align with my own views. However, as a social scientist I see myself and studies in a bit more of an abstract manner.
- In this era of the ontological turn (the de-centering of the human) my research interest is more regarding social power structures and complex system relationships between the human and non-human world.
- Currently, many of our relationships with the environment are rooted deeply in a dichotomy of human wants (as an example, more economy vs. more conservation). I’m interested in what happens when the human is removed from the equation – when it’s not about the human at all.
Do you think there are problems in how conservation is implemented or thought about that need to be addressed so that a higher value is placed on individual animals such as the two cubs? Do you see positive changes coming in how conservationists look at wildlife or anything else?
- It is problematic that humans attempt to manage other species as a whole instead of adopting an approach that each individual animal is an individual and each situation a single moment in time involving individuals.
- I think much of conservation is still rooted in humanistic underpinnings – that we can and should be controlling nature for profit and gain; that nature is here to serve the human.
- This model is broken and problematic.
Do you think that in conservation under appreciation of individual animals is related to economic conservation programs where things like hunting licenses bring in money for conservation programs? Do you think this sort of economic conservation is misguided or a good idea in some ways, why?
- It’s a stupid approach. Conserve today so we can kill and destroy tomorrow?
- Apt example of human centered thinking.
- I think there’s a “don’t be a dick” common sense approach that doesn’t really need science to explain it.
- Do we really need a bunch of dead ducks hanging on our wall every year to justify why we conservewetlands? Or maybe there’s a greater purpose to wetlands that doesn’t have anything to do with humans?
- Do we really need a dead giraffe, spread out on the ground, and full of bullet holes with its head bent over in a trophy circle to justify how trophy hunting provides finances for conservation? Or maybe giraffes serve an important ecological and biological function which has nothing to do with humans?
- The list goes on but there’s an underpinning concept here that the killing is necessary because the killing provides needed money – so we need to conserve so we can kill later for money.
- The relationship between money and violence is a fascinating correlation.
- If we de-center the human, and don’t make it about the human at all, various modern power relationships that perpetuate the status quo become less justifiable, hazy, and begin to appear positively medieval.
What advice or encouragement would you give to those who are interested in protecting wildlife or environments? What encouragement would you give?
- Listen, I’m no guru. I’m no hero. I’m just a dude that used to be a soldier, now turned environmental cop/academic. So, the soldier in me boils it all down to, “don’t be a dick.” The constable in me tempers that with, “when you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, think of your community, your country, your world.” The academic in me goes back to the soldier’s theory of dickness with, “where is the common sense? Why do we need science here?” Can’t it just be really simple?”
- I’m left with, “what would happen if everyone in the world just woke up tomorrow with the only goal for the day being, “I’m won’t be a dick today.”
- As an example, you’re a forester, you have to layout logging blocks. Fine. Most will accept this. So you’re in the middle of nowhere and while laying out a block you run into a massive ancient tree that has stood since time immemorial. Do you move the cut boundary just a little and save it? Or just ignore it and carry on? I’m not saying don’t log. I’m not saying we should stop logging. But isn’t there a dick factor in the day to day of how we act as humans? Wolf killing contests would be a good wildlife example that is very similar. I’m not saying there will never be a situation where wildlife will have to be killed. But a contest to see who can kill the most? I mean come on! Super dicky and completely unnecessary behavior. You could draw similar examples from almost every industry – even the tech sector and mining operations for computer parts.
- Maybe the concept I’m driving at here is when we are faced with critical decision making a “do no harm” approach, or at the very least “do less harm” should be at the forefront.
- At the end of the day my experiences are quite a faith shattering understanding of the human race. Some of us try really hard every day to do the right thing and some of us wake up in the morning and consciously decide to be the biggest massive dick in the community.
What are your own goals for the future?
- I just finished a two day hearing in the BC Supreme Court last week about the bear cub situation and officer authorities – still not sure how this hasn’t made it to Wikipedia yet..lol.
- I’m not sure what the future holds.
- I just want to be a good dad to my 6 year old girl, help raise a confident and independent woman, and try really hard to be a good person, good partner, and a good constable. Hopefully, if I’m a touch lucky, I’ll have a positive impact on this small space we call Earth in this short moment of time that we call life.