Parks Canada, the federal agency that runs the warden service, said the restructured program implemented in 2009 is working well.
The Heckler and Koch 9 mm handguns, which parks wardens carry along with batons and pepper spray, are issued for the safety of public and staff, said Jonah Mitchell, acting director of Parks Canada's law enforcement branch. Whether they're deployed on the job isn't used as a benchmark of whether the program is working, he said.
around interacting with the public, strong abilities to manage situations and
defuse situations, without having to resort to those tools," Mitchell said.
"The fact our staff haven't had to use a sidearm yet is a sign of the quality
of our staff and our training programs."
The squad of armed wardens, however, remains small.
Eighty-six wardens trained in the use of handguns patrol all national parks
and Parks Canada sites across the country. The federal government has authorized
Parks Canada to staff up to 100 armed wardens, but there are no current plans
for any "significant changes," Mitchell said.
When Parks Canada was ordered to arm wardens with sidearms for their personal
safety, the agency set up a force of roughly 25 per cent of its 400 members to
deal with poaching, illegal hunting and other violations.
The remaining unarmed members were re-classified as resource management and
public safety specialists and tasked with dealing with public safety, ecological
research, wildlife management and search and rescue.
The move followed a heated court battle initiated in 2000 when Banff warden
Doug Martin filed an Occupational Health and Safety complaint over safety
The directive ordering Parks Canada to either issue sidearms or remove
wardens from unsafe work condition was subsequently challenged in quasi-judicial
and court proceedings, until a 2005 Federal Court of Appeal ruling ultimately
upheld the order.
Armed parks wardens first began patrolling in 2009.
A labour relations hearing launched by the occupational health and safety
officer at the heart of the challenge was heard recently in Edmonton.
Bob Grundie alleges his employer, Human Resources and Skills Development
Canada, tried to intimidate him due to his actions on the file.
Both Grundie and Martin say the battle to arm wardens took a huge personal
Martin, who retired from the agency in 2010 after 35 years, said he battles
post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic depression due to the case but said
he doesn't regret leading the charge.
"If it can save one park warden, the training and equipment, then absolutely
it was worth it," he said.
Martin said he faced numerous threats on the job, including run-ins with
motorcycle gangs when he worked at Waterton National Park and being told he'd be
"gutted and thrown in the lake for fish food," while working in Banff.
He applauded Parks Canada for sticking by the program, but argued the armed
wardens are still stretched thin across the country, and their numbers should be
Mitchell, of Parks Canada, said the wardens are strategically placed across
the country and can be moved around to support each other as needed.
The agency doesn't reveal where each warden is located due to security
"There's a high level of quality in terms of the training and level of
professionalism. The ability to have resources we can move around to temporary
work assignments as required allows us to have a pretty flexible response
mechanism to cover a wide area," Mitchell said.
An initial audit expected to fine-tune the program is expected to be complete