Life as a Recruit
The Western Conservation Law Enforcement Academy

After attending college and getting a diploma in natural resource compliance and doing two and a half summers of seasonal work as a park patrol officer, I applied for a natural resource officer position in Manitoba. Then I passed the physical agility test for conservation officers, partook in a two-hour interview and was considered one of the successful candidates. It was then time to be interviewed by a psychologist and write two psychological tests. After successfully completing all of the above, I receive a letter that read,

“This is to advise you that you have been selected from the current Manitoba Conservation eligibility list as a successful incumbent for the position of Natural Resource Officer… blah blah blah... you must successfully complete the Western Conservation Law Enforcement Academy, should you not complete the academy you are subject to a nondisciplinary termination.”

So that's what I did. On January 3, 2012, I attended the Western Conservation Law Enforcement Academy (WCLEA) in Victoria, BC.

WCLEA is a training academy that began in Hinton, Alberta in 2007. It was founded by conservation officer agencies from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Yukon as a central training centre designed to give recruits about 80% of their specialized training required for their employment. It is currently a 12-week academy consisting of courses such as firearms, defensive tactics, swift water rescue, emergency vehicle operators' course, 4x4, interview and interrogation, chemical immobilization, problem wildlife, and a few more.

In January of 2012, the course was delivered to a core group of 15 officer recruits from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Yukon, while BC conservation officers joined in on individual courses as well. Instructors from all five jurisdictions including Alberta participated in the training, although Alberta did not send recruits this year. This really demonstrated the unity these western provinces have formed throughout the years. Having Instructors from all over western Canada provided not only the recruits, but also the instructors with a way of sharing information, unique experiences, and tips and tricks of the trade. In some instances, it created some rivalry on which province's technique was superior. I recall a bit of a competition with leg snares between BC and Alberta instructors during our problem wildlife course.

Problem Wildlife
After BC/Alberta's snare competition, we trained in wildlife attacks on humans. We learned how to determine if the victim was actually killed by the wild animal or was only being fed on by the wild animal by
looking for bruising, defensive wounds and haemorrhaging around the wounds. We learned how to determine a predatory attack from a defensive attack using signs like whether the animal left the area after the attack (defensive) or stayed close to the attack site (predatory).

For example, bears demonstrate behavioural components like stalking, consuming flesh, burying and guarding their prey in predatory attacks only. BC has human attack teams who respond to these situations. They discussed their procedures and walked us through investigations they had actually done. Scenarios were created so we could put into practice what we had learned. In cases where it is a predatory attack and the animal is still in the area, the team goes to the attack site tactically.

The team will move together and all members will have a firearm. Each member is assigned a direction to cover so the group has firearms and eyes securing all 360 degrees. In this scenario, when the team of six approached the attack site, the bear (instructor with bear hide on back) charged. The bear was shot (with our fake wooden guns) but everything we learned in firearms about muzzle control was forgotten during the charge!
Fake wooden gun muzzles were everywhere.

The first day of firearms, we were issued our side arms and put our holsters on our belt. Safety was discussed
once, twice, three times! Then we were shown how to draw and recover (or “holster” depending on which
province you ask). The next day we travelled to Vancouver to continue our training at the Vancouver Tactical Training Centre.

The next ten days were jam-packed with dry firing, changing targets, cleaning guns, picking up brass and loading clips. (If we called magazines “clips” in training we had to do push-ups, but I am not in training anymore.) We did a fair number of pushups that week. If it wasn't for the 'clips', it was for not calling our officer in charge “sir” as requested, or for missing some brass at the end of the day: 10 push-ups for every brass. Our OIC would get down on his hands and knees and look in every nook and cranny for brass. He found six one day, so 60 push-ups we did.

We started out learning the basics: proper stance, administrative, tactical and emergency loading, how to clear stoppages and by the end found ourselves shooting at night behind a barricade with emergency lights going and people yelling at us. We shot one handed from one metre away, lying prone from 25 metres, and everything in between. After all the shooting, I felt very comfortable handling my sidearm, but by day five I noticed a big difference in my shot placement. The bullet was no longer going where I was aiming but, depending on how far away I was, anywhere from a couple inches to a foot low. I was staging the trigger and had developed a terrible habit. In our Manitoba course of fire, there is no room for error in your first 20 shots. The day before qualification day, I had run through the course of fire once or twice and had not yet passed. Needless to say I had no miracle on qualification day. I failed my course of fire.

This was my lowest point during the three months and I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. I was doing everything I could and trying as hard I could. I listened to everything the instructors told me and I still failed. It was not over for me yet though. I was put into the remedial troop with the six or seven other recruits having similar issues. Feeling the support and the confidence my instructors and fellow recruits had in me kept me going and soon I realized how much of a mental thing shooting was. Day two of qualifying came after a day of much needed rest and I passed first thing in the morning. I was mentally prepared this time and although I am no sniper yet, I know I could be with just a little practice and a lot of confidence.

A week of shotgun and rifle followed pistol. Every one of the recruits had previously received this training in our home provinces and this course was basically just a refresher. Most of us passed the course of fire in both shotgun and rifle the first or second try.

Defensive Tactics (DT)
In the last 40 years, over 130 police officers have been killed in the line of duty in Canada. In some cases it was with their own gun, so we trained in weapon retention. Sometimes it had been with the attacker's weapon, so we also trained in disarming tactics. In other fatalities, it has been with a knife, and so we trained in edged weapon attacks. Often it is with one or two officers in combat with many attackers, so our training also involved multiple
assailant attacks. The unfortunate truth is that much of our training comes as the result of another officer sometime in history, losing his or her life. This course was designed to hopefully ensure that the future defensive tactic recruits are not learning from our coroners.

Defensive tactics was a two-week course where we learned techniques for handcuffing, strikes, pressure to sensitive areas (PSA's), baton, ground tactics and much more. We also discussed and practiced high risk and unknown risk vehicle stops during these two weeks. We did actual scenarios everyday to practice what we had learned. Every day was physically and mentally exhausting and packed with information. The course was well designed and each lesson added to the next slowly making us each stronger and smarter. By the end you feel like you could fight GSP from UFC, or at least that you are now smart enough to talk your way out of a fight, or if necessary, use the right weapon. The last day of this course we were tested in every technique we had learned, at least50 for sure. Then we participated in one last scenario where each of us had to make someone who is trying to kill you. It is a decision no one wants to make.

Emergency Vehicle Operators
Course (EVOC) We travelled to the Prairie Region Training Center in Chilliwack for this fiveday course. We did some really tedious drills like backing up through pylons using only your side mirrors. The real fun was had when driving at high speeds, dodging pylons and testing the ABS steering capabilities. We did an exercise where we
would be driving along at 70 km/hr and at last second a tricycle would come out in front of us. We would have to swerve, miss the tricycle, slam on the breaks and not hit any of the pylons that were guiding you out of your lane and then back into it. The smell of burning rubber, the sound of screeching tires and the feeling of hot breaks will always remind me of EVOC.

At the end of the week we had to complete a timed cumulative course consisting of everything we had learned and not only pass it once, but twice in a row. Thank you to BC for so graciously letting us test the brakes, steering, emergency equipment and in one case, the off-road capabilities of your trucks.

Swift Water Rescue
This course was delivered to us from Rescue Canada and took place on the Cowichan River. We had a classroom section discussing safety concerns, principals of moving water, survival responses, the crucial and difficult decision to shoot knots, etc. Then we went out to the river for two days. The water was 2⁰C and it was
snowing and raining. I had six layers of clothes underneath my skin-tight onepiece dry suit, dreading the moment to come where I had to pee. To simulate a lifejacket getting caught on a tree or rock and holding us under water, our instructor tied a rope to each of our lifejackets and stepped. This would hold us underwater and we had to
try and get out of the life jackets.
In the freezing cold water it was more difficult to hold your breath.

We also simulated a logjam and had to get pinned against a log and get up and over using multiple techniques. Then most of us participated in a “survival swim.”

We jumped off a rock into the rapids beside a sign that read, “Warning stay off fish way can be extremely dangerous” and a cross of a boy who died and whose body was never recovered.

After jumping, we had to manoeuvre ourselves through the rushing water around rocks and into an eddy. Pass this last eddy was an even faster current, sharp rocks and logjams. If we missed the eddy, our instructor threw us a throw bag. This happened to a few recruits. You could see fear in their eyes as they missed the eddy
and were sucked back into the current knowing they had to catch this bag or they were in trouble. Only one of the recruits decided to test our instructors' swift water rescue skills when he missed the eddy, then the throw bag, and was carried away down the river. Our instructor ultimately saved the day but it was a scary couple minutes watching them both fight the water and eventually losing sight of them around a bend.

One final word to all future recruits: Every rule in the rulebook you receive the first day is there for a reason. Some of them seem odd but they are all there because someone, in some previous year, actually did something that resulted in a rule. We could justify some of the rules that seemed the craziest: Code of Conduct # 5 “ Recruits at NO TIME parade, walk through or be in the common areas of dormitories without being clothed.” Make it your goal to add a rule every year. For WCLEA 2012: “If you get locked out, do not climb through windows in the dark unless you are absolutely sure that it is your room, break and enters are illegal.”

All 15 recruits of WCLEA 2012 graduated on March 24, 2012 and we were all issued our badges that day. Congratulations to all my fellow graduates of WCLEA and good luck with your careers.
I wish you all the best.

Author: Jill Shale. Jill is a member
of the Manitoba Natural Resource
Officers Association

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