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No raise for Fish and Wildlife for RAPID response

Alberta Government Photo

Masha Scheele
reporter@hintonvoice.ca


While in the process of joining the Rural Alberta Integrated Defence Force (RAPID), Alberta’s Fish and Wildlife officers have been notified they will not be compensated for additional responsibilities and risks added to their roles by the province.

Their added duties and responsibilities would come into effect by December 2020, according to a post from the Alberta Game Warden Association (AGWA), a non-profit organization whose members are Fish and Wildlife officers. 

“The RAPID Force is a critical component in the Government of Alberta’s strategy to combat rural crime. By integrating Alberta’s provincial peace officers, response times are significantly reduced and communities feel safer,” stated Jerrica Goodwin, press secretary of the Treasury Board and Finance.

When contacted by The Voice, West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long’s office had nothing to add on the topic beyond forwarding the same statement already made by Goodwin.

Despite a promise from the provincial government last year that said these extra duties would come with increased salaries, officers were notified of the change to that commitment on Oct. 2.

“RAPID Force duties have not been assigned at this time. Alberta’s Public Service Commission completed a job classification review finding the additional duties would not substantively change the job function. With new work we know adjustments may be made and if there are substantive changes to the job descriptions after six months they can be submitted for review,” stated Goodwin.

Officers were informed that according to the classification review, their duties have not substantively changed in the areas of knowledge, problem solving, or responsibilities. 

“If they’re saying nothing has changed in their duties, then that means they were functioning as full police officers all along and getting way underpaid compared to everyone else. Or the government is actually going back on their word from last year,” said Bill Peters, a retired Fish and Wildlife enforcement manager.

One of those new duties means Fish and Wildlife officers will be responding to the most dangerous 911 emergency calls in rural Alberta, stated Mike Dempsey, vice president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) representing the officers.

“Fish and Wildlife Officers have the most training with weapons because of what they do with wildlife. They have weapons training, which is why they would be doing the most dangerous work for the RCMP,” said Dempsey.

Dempsey noted that one officer recently wrote about going through a two-day domestic violence course, trying to wrap his head around what business he has as a game warden to attend a domestic abuse course. Officers would be taking statements, photographs, and potentially getting into high risk violent scenarios, which raises alarm bells.

The average RCMP officer doing the same work, is making $15,000 to $25,000 per year more, according to Dempsey.

In addition to that, traffic sheriffs and commercial vehicle officers will be given authority to respond to a wider range of calls, such as complaints by erratic drivers, collisions, and impaired driving incidents, he added.

“This is a broken promise, it was in writing that these [officers] would be paid more for stepping up to the plate and then lo and behold they said, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to pay you more after all,’” Dempsey said.

Premier Jason Kenney and former Justice Minister, Doug Schweitzer, announced the creation of the RAPID Force initiative last November.

RAPID would provide extra training to 400 peace officers who work in Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Services and the Alberta Sheriffs Highway Patrol to help combat rural crime.

About 130 Fish and wildlife officers will be impacted, roughly 115 highway patrol sheriffs, as well as Commercial Vehicle enforcement.

“[The increase of rural crime] doesn’t seem to be dealt with, there doesn’t seem to be sufficient police resources,” said Peters. 

He added that the RAPID initiative was one way the premier hoped to combat the issue.

Training the 400 officers to respond to some emergencies, if they are closest to a crime in a rural area, would cost $6.5M and the total initiative would cost about $7.7M more each year, mostly for increased officer salaries, stated reports last year. Peters said they’ve given the officers additional training, additional firearms, additional responsibilities, without sufficient pay and without a choice.

“The officers are not asked if they want to do this, they are being told. There’s a reason people are game wardens and not Edmonton city police officers, they chose their career. Wildlife officers are very, very passionate about what they do, and their job is an incredibly complex law enforcement job,” said Peters.

He noted while fish and wildlife officers are paid substantially less than municipal police officers, they were doing what they are passionate about.

Fish and Wildlife officers are still tasked with delivering their core mandate of conservation law enforcement, but will now also provide initial response to emergency 911 dispatches for crimes in progress. Dempsey noted that parks conservation officers will have to be reassigned as well to do the work of Fish and Wildlife officers who are being called out to respond for the RCMP. 

“An employer has the right to tell people what they do, even if they change what they do rather drastically. What they need to do is first of all, if you’re going to give them increased dangerous work, then you need to compensate them accordingly,” Dempsey said.

As of Oct. 1, Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch members joined the Alberta Sheriffs and called the Alberta Sheriffs – Conservation Services.

Dempsey explained that the Fish and Wildlife Officers are set to take on their new duties as of Nov. 1. Dempsey is hopeful that concerns are being heard and will be acted upon.

“It would be wise and prudent, but with this government, I haven’t seen any evidence of changing direction on anything,” he said.

Peters is hopeful that, what he calls common sense, will prevail in the end, and that the officers will be compensated for their work.

“The sad part is if it doesn’t get fixed, Alberta is going to lose an awful lot of very good front line fish and wildlife officers,” he said.

If these officers don’t get paid for the work they do, they will likely apply as a police officer in the city and be compensated properly, Peters believes.

“They will get a 15 per cent to 20 per cent increase in salary and the losers will be natural resources of Alberta and the public. They will lose all these super trained-up wildlife officers that are going to go find employment elsewhere,” Peters said.

The Saskatchewan government implemented a similar program in 2018, Conservation Officers were required to go through similar training and equipment upgrades, but they were given a 15 per cent salary increase.

Contact fish and wildlife by reaching out to one of offices listed on this page: https://www.alberta.ca/fish-and-wildlife-contacts.aspx

The public can continue to report suspicious or illegal hunting or fishing activity and dangerous wildlife through the 24-hour Report A Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800 or at alberta.ca/report-poacher.aspx.