Dawn of the
skimpy cover for the first invisible wildlife officers
by J. B. Struthers
require an indirect approach. Here are a couple of examples from the good old
days, before undercover operations were routine to fish and wildlife enforcement.
On a cold November
night, back in 1970 or ’71, the RCMP detachment in Drayton Valley received a phone
call from a local hotel. The caller alleged that someone was approaching bar patrons
and offering moose meat for sale. A corporal who had that day moved to Drayton,
stopped by the bar a half hour later. Before he had downed his first beer, he
was approached and agreed to buy the moose provided it could be delivered to his
residence. The seller agreed.
to the corporal’s residence in the seller’s truck. When the seller left the vehicle
to unload the four quarters of moose meat, the corporal took the keys from the
The moose was unloaded,
the cash changed hands, the corporal flashed his badge. The violator jumped into
his truck and locked the doors. After a short pause, the truck was fired up and
began to pull away from the curb. The shocked Mountie, realizing he had no idea
who the violator was, glanced at the licence plate. It was covered with snow.
There was only one choice.
The good corporal
leapt into the back of the truck before it got up to speed. He then cleared the
plate and recorded the licence number in his notebook. At this juncture, in the
cold wind and blowing snow, he concluded that the driver was heading for the highway.
The curling sweater the Mountie had donned for the short walk to the bar did little
to break the wind. Fortunately the truck slowed some before entering the highway
and the corporal managed a safe if clumsy dismount.
A check of motor
vehicle records provided a name and address. A patrol to that rural location,
however, revealed that the culprit had returned home, packed a few things and
headed for parts unknown. He was apprehended about a week later.
Late in the following
hunting season, the Evansburg Fish and Wildlife Office received information that
moose meat was being sold in the bar in Cynthia. B.V. Sigurdson , who was then
responsible for coordinating our outfit’s problem wildlife program, spent the
next evening with me, drinking beer and playing shuffleboard in the bar of the
Cynthia Hotel. We were posing as hunters. Neither Vic nor I were renowned for
drinking beer or, if the truth be known, for shuffleboard.
11 p.m., a couple of fellows I didn’t recognize, approached us and we chatted
a bit. Rather than offering moose meat for sale, they challenged us to a game
of shuffleboard. They whipped us soundly. More galling than that was the fact
that halfway through the game, the younger one of the pair said, loud enough for
all to hear, "I know you! You’re that game warden from Evansburg." Whatever
cover we had was blown.
In 1974 the Fish
and Wildlife Division established a special investigator position. During the
following seven years, three individuals held that position which was intended
to address problems of a serious nature which could not be addressed by uniformed
officers within standard practice. Several circumstances frustrated the success
of the new unit:
- as this operation
was the first of its type in Canada, procedures and policies had to be established
as operations proceeded;
- existing budget
and audit demands could not sanction expenditures required for covert operations;
- insufficient staff
and no process to acquire suitable operatives for extended covert operations;
- demands from assigned
administrative functions (e.g. establishment of case law library, assistance with
prosecutions, development of officer handbook, draft responses);
and ‘need to know’ restraints;
associated with establishing cover identities;
- inadequate budgets.
Nothing good comes
easy! By the mid ’80s, many of these problems were overcome. Cash reserves were
established to facilitate day to day operations. Operatives were contracted for
specific projects. A second position was dedicated to the unit. Unrelated administrative
functions were reassigned.
Today that section
functions under the direction of the Head of Enforcement Operations and employs:
an Undercover Unit Coordinator, two special investigators, a covert unit coordinator,
contract operatives as required and an intelligence/support position. Additionally,
five field officers have received special training and are available should their
services be required.
supported by some nifty high-tech equipment, poses a significant threat to those
who would abuse Alberta’s fish and wildlife resources but that’s a story I will
leave to others.
have come a long way since the good old days.
is a member of the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officers Association in Edmonton.