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Law enforcement cooperation - what a concept

September 5, 2010

On August 22nd, according to an article in the Lake Cowichan Gazette, BC’s Conservation Officer Service teamed up with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the RCMP to conduct a spot-inspection of sports fishers near Cowichan Bay.  West Coast Environmental Law has recommended this type of collaboration for years. 

Here’s the Gazette’s explanation:

A joint project between the Lake Cowichan RCMP, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), and the Provincial Conservation Office (CO), vehicles were first checked by the police, and passed on to the DFO and CO for a second level of inspections, once police confirmed the occupants had been fishing.

The results of the inspection?  Almost 20% of those who had been fishing were violating the Fisheries Act:

“Of [67 vehicles inspected for fisheries violations], we issued fines and warnings to about 13 of them,” [Fisheries Officer, Larry] Paike said. “I was surprised at the level of non-compliance.”

One of the more disturbing areas of non-compliance, Paike said, was the number of female crabs they found.  … “That shouldn’t happen,” he said, adding that the death of female crabs has a ripple effect in crab populations.

No Response Cover.jpgReaders of this blog will know that for some time West Coast has been concerned about the dropping levels of tickets and charges issued by the Conservation Officer Service, including, notably, our 2007 report, No Response, and continuing more recently in my blog posts updating the analysis from No Response.  In No Response, we recommended:

Effective enforcement involves coordination across government, between levels of government and with the public. … What this means is the Ministry of Environment should explore coordinating the monitoring and enforcement of environmental laws with other departments and other law enforcement agencies.

So, 3 years after we proposed it, the Conservation Officer Service and federal Fisheries Officers are apparently looking at ways to cooperate with the RCMP.  Fisheries Officer Paike’s promise that: “[L]aw enforcement is working together, and we will do this again…” is good news, and precisely the type of message that people who might be tempted to break the law need to hear. 

Of course we hope that this type of cooperation won’t stop with piggy-backing on RCMP vehicle checks.  While such initiatives can be used to crack down on violations by fishers and hunters, it will probably not by itself catch violations under other statutes or more serious violators.  These first steps towards cooperation need to broaden to include  more extensive attempts at coordination between the agencies, include enlisting the RCMP to detect and investigate unauthorized disposal of waste, use of pesticides or illegal changes to water-bodies, and other violations of provincial environmental laws. 

No Response also provides a range of other recommendations for enhancing environmental law enforcement, most of which are still relevant:

  • Ensure that charges and tickets are used appropriately to create real consequences for violators of environmental laws.
  • Fund the Conservation Officer Service and the Ministry of Environment appropriately so that it can do its job;
  • Write provincial environmental laws so that they are easily enforceable.
  • Announce to the public who has violated environmental statutes and how (as we noted recently, the government may be slowly moving in the right direction on this). 
  • Develop information systems that allow the government to evaluate the effectiveness of its compliance efforts. 
  • Allow members of the public to enforce environmental statutes through private prosecutions or similar citizen’s enforcement. 

Andrewblogphoto.jpgBy Andrew Gage