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Update: Minister Bill Bennett denies role in Revelstoke conservation officer decision
Minister Bill Bennett is denying any involvement in the decision to remove the conservation officer position from Revelstoke.
Bennett was implicated in the decision after documents received through a freedom of information request indicated he gave approval for the position to be moved from the community.
"Lori just heard back from the Minister’s office and Minister Bennett is supportive of moving the position in Revelstoke," wrote Danielle Jmieff, the division issues manager for BC Parks and the Conservation Officer Service (COS), in an e-mail.
The e-mail was sent to Doug Forsdick, the chief superintendent of the COS. Lori is likely Lori Halls, the assistant deputy minister for BC Parks and the COS.
The documents were obtained through a freedom of information request and provided to the Times Review by Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald (NDP).
“Input from the community of Revelstoke was neither asked for nor included in the decision to remove Revelstoke’s conservation officer. Instead, the ministry was more interested in consulting with Bill Bennett, the MLA for Kootenay East, who supported this very serious cut to the community,” said Macdonald, in a news release. "It is beyond ridiculous that the way decisions are made on such important issues is for an entire ministry of professionals to await the final word of a guy who knows absolutely nothing about the conservation service or the community of Revelstoke.”
Bennett responded by calling the accusation "inaccurate" and "just not true." He said as the lone government MLA in the Kootenays, he was notified about the decision as he often is when matters come up regarding the region, but that was the extent of his involvement.
"It's not my ministry, it's not my riding. I'm not in a position, nor do I have the authority or the expertise to sign off on this decision or post a decision," he told the Times Review. "Until today, I hadn't even remembered this issue coming across my desk. I'm responsible for energy and mines, I'm responsible for core review. I don't have the time or the interest to be involved in all of my colleagues decisions."
Revelstoke lost its conservation officer in December when Adam Christie retired and his position was transferred to Golden. The move has been widely condemned by local stakeholders, who fear it will lead to increased poaching, human-wildlife conflict and other violations.
Much of the information obtained in the FoI request is redacted so it is not known why Bennett was involved in the conservation officer decision. The COS is part of the Ministry of the Environment, whose minister is MLA Mary Polak.
The 87-page response to the request for access to information contain letters to the Ministry of the Environment from Macdonald, Revelstoke Bear Aware and the Revelstoke Rod and Gun Club that have already been made public; as well as numerous internal e-mails discussing how to communicate the decision to the public and respond to media requests.
The response does contain statistics on response calls in Revelstoke, Golden and Invermere, but any analysis of the information, or justification for the decision is not included. Dozens of pages are redacted, citing clauses in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that allow information to be withheld.
In a letter to the Times Review sent in January, B.C. Minister of the Environment Mary Polak said that have two officers in Golden and two in Invermere, “would provide the best level of service to the entire [Columbia Kootenay] zone.
“The review was based on location and types of complaints and calls received through the region, and took into consideration the safety and wellbeing of our officers,” Polak wrote.