Dangerous animal training for Ottawa Bylaw to be considered as city reviews wildlife policy

The head of Ottawa Bylaw and Regulatory Services (BLRS) says additional training for situations in which a large animal poses an immediate safety risk will be considered as the city updates its wildlife policy.

In a memo to city councillors, BLRS Director Roger Chapman addressed several questions that had been raised after Ottawa police officers shot a bear to death in the west end of the city last month.

In response to a question asking how Ottawa Bylaw officers can aid Ottawa police in situations where a large wild animal could potentially be a danger, Chapman said bylaw officers lack adequate training for such encounters.

“Bylaw Enforcement Officers are currently not equipped or trained to respond to large wild animals posing an imminent risk to residents, which would be a significant undertaking requiring a cost-benefit analysis, among other things,” Chapman wrote. “This will however be considered as part of the review of the City’s Wildlife Strategy.”

The wildlife strategy was last updated in 2013. Residents are encouraged to respond to a survey on the city’s website about the review. It is taking input until June 30.

“Appropriate responses to reports of large wild mammals in the city vary widely depending on the species, location and other factors,” Chapman said. “Nighttime use of chemical immobilization is unsafe and therefore, not practiced. The need for nighttime interventions is in fact extremely rare and not recommended.”

He added that nearly all encounters with large wildlife result in the animal being safely relocated. Since 2002, Chapman said, there have been “only two other occasions when a large wild mammal was dispatched in circumstances similar to the April 24th bear occurrence.”

It was not immediately clear what Chapman meant by “similar circumstances.” There are several examples of Ottawa police officers killing large wild animals in the city, usually moose. Ottawa police officers shot and killed two moose in as many weeks in June 2010 after the animals were spotted in the east end. In one of the cases, police said they could not find a tranquilizer gun. Ottawa police shot and killed an elk that had wandered into the city’s west end in 2013 after reportedly exhausting all other options. Another moose was shot and killed in 2018 after it had reportedly charged an Ottawa police officer. In addition, an injured moose that was trapped on Highway 417 in 2018 had to be euthanized.

Chapman again noted that Ottawa police were first on the scene of the bear call in April and deferred questions about their choice to kill the bear to their expertise.

“BLRS, the NCC and MNRF (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) were not involved in the decision to put down the animal, given that OPS, as first responder, is best suited to determine whether the bear was posing an imminent threat requiring such action in the circumstances that existed at that time,” Chapman said in the memo, repeating a statement he had previously given about the incident the day after it happened.

The bear had been spotted in Bells Corners and Kanata for several days prior to its death and efforts were underway to trap and relocate it, but police killed the bear on April 24 when they were called that night to a Kanata neighbourhood.

Police said in a statement that when officers arrived, they found the animal close to homes and “deemed it to be a significant public safety risk.” Officers claimed they worked to safely remove the bear from the area, but “after exhausting all available options, it became clear that the animal could not be safely relocated,” police said.

Chapman’s memo said one of the live traps was near the area where the bear was killed.

He said that prevention plays a critical role in keeping wild animals from becoming a risk to themselves or others.

“Public education and awareness about removing attractants from back yards (e.g. bird feeders), particularly where residential use directly abuts natural areas such as woodlands and wetlands, and the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ when encountering a wild animal is an integral part of any wildlife strategy,” Chapman wrote.

Staff will report back to council in the fall with recommendations for an updated wildlife strategy. 

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