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Park wardens get armour for enforcement duties

PETERBOROUGH, Ont. (Canadian OH&S News)


PETERBOROUGH, Ont. (Canadian OH&S News)

Wardens who patrol Ontario’s provincial parks are suiting up, as bulletproof vests have become a mandatory accessory when they patrol for unruly campers.

At the start of July, the Ministry of Natural Resources began rolling out “soft body armour” to the 450 park wardens that watch over the more than 100 parks across the province, a plan that being developed over the past year and a half through a joint health and safety committee between the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

“It was an idea that officer safety is a priority in Ontario parks, so we’ve been trying to proactively improve the safety situation for them,” said ministry spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski. “It was a case of an escalation of safety measures. There wasn’t a single incident that triggered it.”

Park wardens are expected to wear the vests, which weigh approximately two kilograms, whenever they are out on enforcement duties, which includes responding to reports of alcohol, talking to campers and while on routine patrols, Kowalski explained, adding that there was not a single incident that triggered the need for the vests.

Elaine Bagnall, OPSEU co-chair of the ministry employee relations committee, said that so far she has not heard any complaints from park wardens about the vests. Kowalski said that while some officers have said the vests make the wearer warmer, “it’s a small price to pay for an improved level of safety.”

Although there are about two to three wardens assaulted every year across the province, there have never been any incidents of wardens being shot or stabbed, which the vests are also made to protect against. Unlike conservation officers, park wardens do not carry guns, but do have batons.

“The park wardens, they have the designation as an officer under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, so they can handle situations like rowdy campers,” Kowalski said. “There’s a potential for something and we just want to make sure they’re protected.”

The 450 vests cost the province $255,000, and each warden gets their own fitted vest that is not shared with any other wardens. The vests must be returned after the operating season, and are then re-issued at the beginning of the new season.

Kowalski and Bagnall could not confirm what penalties, if any, wardens would face if they went on patrol without wearing a vest, but Kowalski said wardens without their vests are not allowed to carry out enforcement duties and Bagnall said there may be progressive discipline.

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4 Comments » for Park wardens get armour for enforcement duties
  1. John M says:

    Ridiculous! Park Wardens wearing armour sets a tone of confrontation that totally goes against the atmosphere of Ontario families enjoying one of our beautiful provincial parks. Get the Wardens out of their vests and want-a-be police cars and give them some communication skills so they can talk to campers rather than at them. If in the end a camper does not want to comply, then that

    • Nicholas Vernem says:

      This is the same sort of reasoning as why some people think that security guards shouldn’t carry the same gear. Nobody should have to confront an unruly drunk with nothing but a shirt and a radio. Most families have no problem with wardens, but I for one am glad that they have the necessary equipment to protect themselves and fulfill their duties safely.

  2. Old Woodsman says:

    Its the OSH Act which prescribes that the park wardens are provided with personal protective equipment. The ministry have done something to protect the wardens who, like police officers, are entering situations that may pose a hazard to their safety. However, I question the adequacy of this level of protection. For officer safety to be a priority in Ontario parks, and for the ministry to proactively improve the safety situation for them, we must realize that park wardens need to be trained on and issued firearms for their own and campers protection. The issue of rowdy campers does occur, and more frequently than desired, but the real potential for serious danger to campers and our park wardens is from agressive bears, which most times can be tranquilized and transferred away from people, but in an emergent situation may have to be shot.

  3. Scott R says:

    Agree whole-heartedly with John M’s comments. I also agree that with Old Woodsman’s comments, however John M’s post really mirrored my initial reaction. Another exemplary example of wasted tax dollars!

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