So a bear walks into town. Should police shoot it?

newmarket bear
Screen capture CBC

There is outrage in the Greater Toronto Area after a black bear in a suburban backyard was shot dead by police; they have no tranquilizer guns, and they claim there were children walking to school in the area and that the bear was on the move.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has the equipment to deal with bears, but they evidently wait until the bear is "stationary for long enough to respond" before they start looking for their equipment. A spokesperson says "It wouldn’t have made sense to have people running around not knowing that we’d need them." So they appear to wait until the police make the bear stationary with a gun.

Which is a shame, because there is really a bigger issue here. When you come right down to it, Adrian Raeside of the Victoria Times-Colonist nailed this problem years ago:

I think the bear deserves a bit more respect than we have given it here, given what we have done to its environment. I think it would have been a better lesson for those school children in the area if they had been told to stay home until the bear was dealt with properly. I think it is outrageous that the Ministry farted around for hours, no, days, knowing the bear was there.

The police claim they had no choice:

“The officers involved and York Regional Police regret the incident but there were no other options,” Chief Eric Jolliffe said in the press release.“Police officers are not equipped with tranquilizers nor are they trained on the containment of wild animals. We will be following up with the MNR in an attempt to improve the response to such incidents.”

After the initial outrage, it turns out that it is complicated. The police tried contacting everyone over the weekend, the zoo, the universities, the humane societies. They tried to keep the bear in the tree by banging things while waiting for the Ministry people to deign to arrive. They didn't, as many tweets claim, just show up and shoot.

It's a shame that there was no preparation for this kind of event. Newmarket is not far from the Greenbelt, land that is protected from sprawl as green space, farmland, forests, wetlands, and watersheds. There is lots of nature and there are going to be interactions. This is not the first or the last time that this kind of thing will happen.

On the other hand, many are saying that the outrage is silly, that people are more concerned about a bear being killed then they are about people being killed, that you can't have dangerous animals running around the city and that we should get our priorities straight. That it is a bunch of city people who don't understand how dangerous bears can be and that they should get over it.

What do you think?

So a bear walks into town. Should police shoot it?
People are outraged that a bear is shot and killed in a suburban backyard. It's not so simple.

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