Saskatchewan conservation officers currently carry a sidearm and a shotgun, but soon, they could be carrying semi-automatic rifles as well.

"Conservation Officers routinely encounter people who are armed with a variety of firearm types as a normal part of both their duties and as a part of the public activity mainly around hunting and trapping," explained Kevin Murphy, Assistant Deputy Minister for Resource Management and Compliance division for the Ministry of Environment.

"There are a number of precedents with police forces across Canada and for us, one of the seminal ones is the 2014 shooting of RCMP officers in New Brunswick and the subsequent New Brunswick court decision that indicated that provision of longarms to peace officers and police officers who are encountering those types of risks is a necessity."

"We looked at that, looked at the precedent and determined that our officers are facing the same types of risks and really require a tool like this in order to be kept safe."

Conservation officers have been asked to do a lot more than watch wildlife, and because of this, they've asked to be able to carry semi-automatic rifles along with their sidearms and shotgun.

"Our conservation officers have one of the broadest environmental mandates of any conservation officer service in Canada and in fact, North America. They undertake work all the way from work on landfill through to the traditional game and fishery management work and now, have been assigned the duties of 911 response through the Provincial Response Team."

"They have a very broad mandate and a tool like this we feel is a necessity."

However, some feel that this will only heighten an already racially tense situation, but Murphy doesn't think that will be the case.

"Officers have been armed with a sidearm for 20 years now. They receive training in use of force tools, de-escalation and decision making about use of force tools. During that 20 years, we kept everyone on our force safe and every one of our clients safe. There has never been a discharge of our sidearm in an incident. I believe that same training, that same de-escalation will be paramount in the use of these new tools and will result in continued safety for our officers and the public."

There is no firm date that officers will receive the new rifles however, Murphy expects to acquire them around April of 2019.

"However, we've got a training schedule. Officers have to be trained in the use of the firearm, the care of the firearm and yearly recertification on all the use of force programs. that all has to be conducted before they actually deploy the rifles in the field so my expectation would be sometime in the fall of next year."

 

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