When does a fish cop get to be a fish cop?

By Brian Zinchuk

            At least a decade ago, while covering North Battleford provincial court, a case came up that was something you didn’t see every day.

            The prisoner hobbled into the glassed-in “fishbowl” in the docket court, barely able to stand. His leg had been torn up by the teeth of a very large dog, a police dog who had been dispatched to take him down.

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            The man had stolen an all-wheel drive Toyota Sienna minivan from Calgary. I remember this because, at the time, I was considering buying one, and a friend did a year later.

            He got to North Battleford and gassed up, but neglected to pay. That resulted in the cops chasing him eastbound down Highway No. 16.

            The man pulled into a yard off the highway and turned around. When a cop pulled up, he yelled something out the window akin to, “You’ll never catch me!!” and stomped on the gas, heading back out on the highway.

            The pursuit took off at insane speeds eastbound again to the point where he ended up somewhere near Maidstone. Everyone was called in – cops from all directions, and at least one conservation officer (more on this in a minute).

            It was evident he didn’t know the area, because he turned right – south – off Highway No. 16. A few miles to the south is the North Saskatchewan River, and only one bridge.

            There was nowhere to go, and that’s exactly what happened. He raced at insane speeds down gravel roads, tossing up huge clouds of dust. Several times he reversed himself, and pursuing police officers found themselves forced off the road by this guy playing chicken with them.

            Eventually he ran out of road, ran out of trail, ended up in a pasture in the river valley, went through a fence, knocked over some trees about four inches in diameter, and got hung up. He took off on foot and hid in the bushes.

            The cops found a large knife beside the driver’s seat. Considering him now armed, and that he tried to kill several of them by playing chicken with them in a cloud of dust, they hunted him down with a dog, and eventually used the dog to subdue him.

            It was one of the most adventuresome pursuits I had ever heard. And, most relevant in 2017, it was the first and only time I had heard of a conservation officer being called in on a pursuit, although this might have also happened on the Spiritwood RCMP deaths around that time.

            Step forward one decade. We’re now over a year since an aboriginal man was killed on a farm north of Biggar in the Cando area. That’s an area that, a decade ago when I was covering it, was plagued with violent home invasions and a never-ending string of break-and-enters to local farms – something that did not get much press when the news of the shooting, hit the airways.        My understanding is things have just gotten worse there.

            People in rural Saskatchewan are up in arms about the fact they have little expectation the police will respond in a timely manner if something bad happens. They feel like they are alone.

            The province’s strategy to address this, and continuing concerns about chronic understaffing of RCMP detachments in rural Saskatchewan, was to announce provincial response teams this past summer.

            While 30 new cops are being added, the gist of the announcement was that whenever an emergency call comes in, we’ll pull in whoever we can, including conservation officers, to respond, if they are closest. If they’re on highway patrol, they go. If they are weighing a semi, they go (presumably, leaving the truck on scales). If they have a gun and a uniform, they go.

            Therein lies some of the problem. We have fish cops for a reason. If fish cops are chasing bad guys for break-and-enters or domestic disturbances, when does the fish cop have time to be a fish cop? Don’t the fish, ducks, geese, moose, deer and elk still need dedicated cops to protect them?

            Don’t highways need someone to make sure commercial vehicles are safe?

            If you do have a full court press, like the pursuit of this guy who tried several times to whack a cop with his stolen mommy mobile, I can see pulling in the conservation officers. For a shooting? Yeah. But you can’t pull them in for everything. We, as a society, and our critters, still need cops dedicated to fish and other wildlife.

            The strategy announced only 30 new police officers, and a further 228 people are being reshuffled in a smoke-and-mirrors show.

            So much for the provincial response teams.