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.