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Wildlife officers answering dangerous police calls deserve more money: union

EDMONTON — If Alberta wants fish and wildlife officers to take on some of the most dangerous parts of police work, it should pay them accordingly, their union said Tuesday.

Mike Dempsey of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said the United Conservative government is breaking its promise of more money for about 115 officers who will be first responders if police are unavailable.

Last fall, the province announced fish and wildlife officers, along with commercial vehicle officers and sheriffs, would be used to increase law enforcement resources in an attempt to address concerns about rural crime. 

The fish and wildlife officers were told they could be first on the scene of potentially volatile crime scenes from domestic violence to assaults.

"It's the most dangerous stuff," Dempsey said.

Body armour and semi-automatic rifles have already been purchased in recognition of the increased risk, said Dempsey. Extra training is being offered. 

And a wage increase was promised. 

"Officers and civilian staff involved in the initiative will receive a wage increase that reflects a significant increase in their roles and responsibilities," said a Nov. 7 message from Alberta's chief fish and wildlife officer. 

But when new job classifications were released last week, Dempsey said no increase was forthcoming.

"Lo and behold, it says your jobs aren't changing that much, even though you're doing this real dangerous work now. So you're not going to be getting any pay raises."

The government should either say the officers won't be responding to police calls or pay them comparably, Dempsey said.

"If the job's not going to change that much, why do they need this program?" he asked. "This looks like a political stunt."

Dempsey said his members would be going on calls alongside Mounties, who could be making up to $25,000 more in annual salary.

Jerrica Goodwin, a spokeswoman for the minister of Treasury Board and Finance, said a job classification review by the Public Service Commission found the additional duties "would not substantively change the job function."

"With new work we know adjustments may be made and if there are substantive changes to the job descriptions after six months they can be submitted for review," she wrote in an email.

Goodwin said integrating provincial peace officers into the Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defence (RAPID) Force is a critical part of the government's strategy to combat rural crime.

She said it would reduce response times and help make communities feel safer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2020

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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