Wildlife enforcement comes under fire

Andrew Robinson
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Retired federal fisheries officer says provincial enforcement abuses authority

A retired federal fisheries officer is taking the Department of Justice to task over what he calls instances of improper conduct by fish and wildlife enforcement officers.

In a letter to The Telegram, Richard Didham referenced a variety of incidents in recent years where he believes officers were either heavy-handed in applying authority or acted inappropriately in attempts to carry out justice.

"They're dangerous, dangerous people," said Didham, who lives in St. Catherine's. "Somebody's going to get shot."

Wildlife enforcement was moved last year from the Department of Natural Resources to the Justice department.

Didham said a wildlife enforcement officer pulled a firearm from his holster during an incident on the Colinet River in 2006. Didham and a friend had come across poachers who fled the scene upon their arrival and left behind a knapsack containing salmon.

When they went back to their vehicle, the officer approached them and asked to check the bag. Didham said he placed the knapsack in the back of the vehicle, at which point the officer drew his gun and started shouting demands at them.

"The young man went out of his mind. When I confronted him and told him the search he was going to conduct was illegal, well, he went berserk," Didham said.

He said the charges brought against both himself and his friend were later dismissed by a judge. Prior to that, Didham was offered a plea bargain, which he declined.

Amongst others, Didham mentions an incident where officers fired shots at a beaver with kittens near Cormack in the presence of Department of Fisheries and Oceans guardians and alleges enforcement officers had once offered $50 bounties for prosecutions against forestry officers.

He also alleges officers involved in undercover operations consumed alcohol and offered nets to individuals for poaching salmon.

"These guys don't seem like they have very much training to me," Didham said.

He suggests the Justice department should take sidearms away from officers and revamp the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division.

"It's not the boys in the field, per se, it's the supervision. ... If you've got people that are in charge looking after them and directing these people properly, you wouldn't have this stuff happening. It shouldn't be happening," he said.

Policing function

Justice Minister Felix Collins said fish and wildlife enforcement operates much like a policing organization should.

"It entails many of the same techniques and investigative powers as other enforcement agencies, such as the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the RCMP," Collins said.

"By being a part of the Department of Justice, the fish and wildlife division benefits from the shared training opportunities with the other enforcement agencies, as well as knowledge transfer and co-operation with the other agencies."

Collins said he is familiar with the complaints made by Didham and has spoken with him in the past.

He said the department is satisfied the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division is staffed with highly trained officers dedicated to working in a professional manner.

The use of undercover operations is acceptable, though he would not comment specifically on the allegation involving bounties for the prosecution of forestry officers.

He then reiterated his point that fish and wildlife enforcement officers are highly trained and professional.

Collins said he is pleased with the progress made by the division since becoming a part of Justice.

"This is a new division and it's growing. It's becoming more professional," he said.

"We're improving the training all the time. We're improving the equipment. We're developing a special Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division that fits very well from the shared resources of the Department of Justice. We're very happy with the results so far."

arobinson@thetelegram.com Twitter: TeleAndrew

Organizations: Department of Justice, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Fisheries and Oceans RCMP

Geographic location: Colinet River, Cormack

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Recent comments

  • lonewolf
    April 23, 2012 - 16:47

    If something bad happens then nothing will be done just like all the killings of innocent people by Police right across Canada. If you fight with someone and you use a weapon to kill them then that is called murder and you get life but if you are 5 police officers with tazers and tazer an innocent man to death then you get suspended with pay first and a pat on the back later you don't even lose a days pay they call that doing your job. Now you're going to put guns in the hands of a bunch of chest puffing morons and watch the bloodbaths. We are living in a police state.

  • Hagdown
    April 16, 2012 - 12:50

    @ Bluejay ... for those attending that trial not only was a bounty of $50 offered for charges against forestry personnel but that officer also bragged that he paid out $150 already. The trial itself was notable in that a District Forest Manager was charged with 7 offences centered on the illegal killing of a moose (http://www.canlii.ca/en/nl/nlpc/doc/2005/2005canlii46732/2005canlii46732.html). A bullet jacket was found within the paunch by wildlife officers - 6 days after it was killed and after an earlier search by another group with a metal detector had failed to come up with anything other than the lead core. Forensics showed that jacket matched a rifle that had been given to the manager by a wildlife officer to handle roadkills during the 2004 NAPE strike. Hence the charges. As the court records reveal, the investigation conducted by wildlife officers was unprofessional and incomplete - they deliberately ignored any leads that would prove innocence. The judge's decision was acquittal of the charges based upon court testimony but he could not resolve how evidence showed up on the site linking the kill to the manager. A post-trial investigation by another agency colloborated that manager's innocence - he was nowhere near the area at the time and the moose had not been killed by the rifle in his possession. So how did a bullet jacket tying him to the crime get in the moose paunch? Who else would have had access to jackets fired from that rifle and the wherewithal to put it at the site of a wildlife offense? Certainly this is something that the current (and previous) Minister of Justice must be wrestling with, despite public assurances of this group's conduct. Mr. Didham, someone has already been hurt - the fall-out from this whole fiasco has damaged that manager's career, not to mention the financial and emotional burdens. But I guess someone has to die before there's any accountability for these lads. Until then, government will try and appease these individuals by giving them new vehicles, higher-paying positions, more staff, etc. at taxpayer's expense. Not that this has been a particularly effective method for dealing with them in the past. Mr. Didham, thank-you for presenting these other incidents to Minister Collins.

    • observer
      April 18, 2012 - 20:11

      I was at the trial of the Forestry officer in Corner Brook. It was frightening what was done to this innocent person. It could be done to anybody. This certainly could be a documentary for the fifth estate. I hope someone has the nerve to write a book about it someday. If you go in to the woods today beware of a big surprise. The supervisors who allowed this to happen were and still are gutless.

    • watcherinthewoods
      April 19, 2012 - 06:03

      I do not know about Mr. Didhams case but I was there at the trial of the Forestry supervisor in Corner Brook . It was frightening what these Inland fish and wildlife officers will do to an innocent man. The Forestry supervisor was freed of the charges against him but only after he and his family were put through hell. Dept of Justice paid for his expenses.,what does that tell you. Unbelievable that the other gutless supervisors stood by and allowed this to happen. When will the provincial government act and take these enforcement officers to justice . The longer they put it off the more damage it will do to the Dunderdale government.

  • ford
    April 16, 2012 - 12:20

    I dont understand fish and wildlife formed a year age, who was wildlife in 2006 Lands and Forestry, Justice , Environment--- who---- This man is a sesoned DFO Officer should he have known the laws if your retired you are no more than me, It sounds like there is more here than is being told!

  • Blue Jay
    April 16, 2012 - 10:27

    Regaurding the alligations of a bounty being paid for charges against any forestry officer, a Corner Brook court confirmed that, while under oath, by the regionel director for natural resources. He was appearing as a wittness.He also said he had sooken to the officer who was offering the bounty. That makes it more than an allegation. A friend of mine(forestry officer) had sixteen charges against him. All were dropped. The crown would not proceed with such trival matters.

  • Whaddaya At ?
    April 15, 2012 - 00:17

    Hey, NINJA, you want me to tell you everything I know about this matter ?. Didn't you notice that I asked three questions; I gave no indication that I know anything about the matter, that was the purpose of my questions. I mistakenly assumed that would be understood.

  • mike
    April 14, 2012 - 23:12

    Mallrat, sounds like a rat! dude check the web for the Sheriffs office then you would get an understanding whom that Dept hires..military police...Federal police...povincial police... Correctional Officals plus trained officals from military including internal training on top of that.. Buddy check your facts.

  • ninja
    April 14, 2012 - 15:47

    Whaddaya At ... you seem to know more or think you know more then what you said previously. please tell us everything you know and let us make our decission from there. if all the truth comes out, it might not be so good for The Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division . Mr. Didham knows some details about The Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division. there is a good chance now that people will provide him with more details. this could get interesting..

  • MallRat
    April 14, 2012 - 12:11

    Come on Felix!! "Highly Trained Officers" It's time to come bloody clean with the people of the Province and stop blowing smoke up everyone's derriere! You know as well as a many others in your Dept. including Assistant Deputy Ministers that the most Poorly trained divison's of Justice are with in Wild Life Enforcement and the Sheriff's office. These divisions have long since relied on a few within who have police constable training from one of the Country's several academies, to bring back skill sets to emboss on the rest of the core work group, coupled with a few weeks of inhouse training and a graduation, to make it all seem official. It burns me everytime Felix speaks to the topic of Highly Trained Officers when it's simply NOT TRUE! Police Academy's produce Highly Trained Officers, in house programs produce Liabilities! Mr.Didham has hit the nail right on the head, well done sir. The people of the Province thank you for coming forward!

  • Whaddaya At ?
    April 14, 2012 - 11:12

    Why did the retired federal fisheries officer not let the Wildlife Enforcement Officer check out the knapsack ?. What better way to make the Officer suspicious ?. What were the charges against the fisheries officer that were dropped ?. The Justice Minister has spoken with that fisheries officer in the past and it's likely he's regarded as a pain in the a$$ to that Dept.

  • ninja
    April 14, 2012 - 09:31

    Collins said the department is satisfied the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division is staffed with highly trained officers dedicated to working in a professional manner mr. collins there is either a lot you don't know about or you are turning a blind eye.

    • Robert Scott
      April 14, 2012 - 10:19

      I agree fully with Mr. Didham's comments. The Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division is made up primarily of younger men trying to establish a permanent job and are terrified of their supervisors who are on an out of control ego run. Some member of the public will get hurt and maybe then the people empowered with reining in these people will do so. Unfortunately, by then it will be too late.