QUEEN’S PARK – Sarah Campbell, MPP Kenora-Rainy River, asks the Minister of Natural Resources why his department chose to compromise public safety by cutting the trapping and relocation portion of the Bear Wise program.
Minister Gravelle states he will not re-instate the program as it once stood. “Senior staff will be available to assist police,” stated Gravelle responding to Campbell.
Citing a recent bear attack near Sioux Lookout, numerous close calls across the province, and serious public safety concerns, Sarah Campbell, MPP Kenora-Rainy River, has called on the province to re-instate the Bear Wise Trapping and Relocation Program that was quietly cut earlier this month.
Campbell says the fact that urgent calls made to Bear Wise and police were not acted on in the Sioux Lookout incident shows the government does not have procedures in place to ensure the public is safe from aggressive bears.
“On the Victoria Day weekend residents of Sioux Lookout frantically called both the MNR and police with reports of at least one dangerous bear,” said Campbell in Question Period May 30. “For more than 24 hours nobody responded, and as expected, the bear attacked a person.”
Campbell says the situation in Sioux Lookout continues to be of serious concern with numerous bears being reported in the area, including near the community’s elementary school.
“Until a reliable and effective replacement is found the ministry needs to reinstate this program immediately,” says Campbell. “The cost savings from this program are minimal, and, unfortunately, bears will not simply head off into the woods because the government wants to save a few dollars.”
Campbell says the Minister needs to be open to any and all suggestions for controlling the growing bear population and ensuring public safety is the MNR’s primary focus.
“The minister says trapping and relocating is not effective enough, that doesn’t mean we just walk away and hope somebody else picks up the slack. A plan needs to be in place and it’s clear it is not in place. The minister isn’t doing the public any favours by cancelling the program and hoping the problem solves itself,” she explains.
Here is the complete exchange from Queen’s Park:
Ms. Sarah Campbell: To the Minister of Natural Resources: Earlier this month, the Minister of Natural Resources announced the cancellation of the Bear Wise trapping and relocation program without notice. At that time, the minister said police organizations would take over the responsibility for emergency bear calls, something that the police immediately denied. Since the cancellation of the trapping and relocation program, there have been close calls in North Bay, Timmins and even Burlington.
On the Victoria Day weekend, residents of Sioux Lookout frantically called both the MNR and police with reports of at least one dangerous bear, and for 24 hours nobody responded. As expected, the bear attacked a person.
Minister, your decision to cancel the program without an alternate plan in place has jeopardized public safety. Will you agree today to reverse that decision?
Hon. Michael Gravelle: Thanks very much for the question. Certainly the Bear Wise program does continue, and may I say, Ontario is the only province that actually has a Bear Wise program at all. We are continuing to support it, obviously, through the work our MNR technicians are doing and the other work that we’re doing, working with our provincial police and with our local police forces. And may I say, we do have a protocol, working with the OPP and local police forces, that if there is indeed an emergency, people should call the local police. I understand that they’ll be working closely with all those people in the municipalities.
May I also say—perhaps I’ll respond in the supplementary—but in terms of the situation that happened north of Sioux Lookout, obviously our concerns go out to the gentleman who was attacked by the bear. I look forward to having an opportunity in the supplementary to speak more specifically to that.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?
Ms. Sarah Campbell: Minister, we know what happened. The Bear Wise hotline even acknowledged they’ve received a number of calls from residents but still did nothing.
Residents across northern Ontario are scared for their safety. For example, children in Sioux Lookout out are being forced to stay indoors at recess because of public safety concerns.
Minister, you have offered no solutions or alternatives. The problem will not go away on its own. Will you reinstate the trapping and relocation program today until such a time as a realistic plan is in place to ensure public safety?
Hon. Michael Gravelle: Certainly, it’s important for me to point out immediately that indeed, if it’s determined by the police that there’s a situation where the trapping or the tranquilizing, immobilizing of a bear is necessary, our bear technicians and our senior staff will be there to work with the local police. In all those situations, we are going to continue to do that. Again, we are the only province that has that problem.
In terms of the situation that happened north of Sioux Lookout, the member knows this well. It happened 100 kilometres north of Sioux Lookout. Certainly that would be described as bear country. There would have been no ability for anyone to get up there to deal with that situation. The gentleman was in a specific situation where the bear managed to get to him.
But as always, our people will be there. Our ministry will be there. Our—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Answer.
Hon. Michael Gravelle: —will be there when the police determine that indeed an emergency situation is occurring. We’ll be there to work with them, with the community and others to see the situation is handled as best as it can be.