After years of controversy, wardens newly trained in the use of handguns began patrolling Canada’s national parks Wednesday (April 1) 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, according to the Calgary Herald.
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.”