BANKHEAD, AB—After a frustrating year long battle, the Workers’ Compensation Board Alberta Wildlife Performers Subcommittee has reversed the denial of a local bear’s WCB claim against Parks Canada.
Charles Stoneberry, a local guest experience bear, appeared in Bankhead today to hear an appeal on a previously denied WCB claim. Stoneberry, a 600-lb male grizzly, was a full-time contract employee during the 2018 summer season and suffered severe injuries during a bear jam leaving him unable to work for the rest of the performance season.
Stoneberry has worked every summer season with Parks Canada since 2010 as a Seasonal Wildlife Interpreter. He is one of the most popular bears tourists take photos of while blocking traffic and endangering non-performing wildlife.
“I clock in at 7am to either eat dandelions on the side of the road or hang around at a reasonable distance from hotel parking lots. Last summer during Canada Day weekend, I was on the dandelion beat near the start of the Minnewanka Loop. I’d told Parks how dangerous and congested that stretch of road is, and how easily jams start. But they told me they could easily find another bear to work the territory if I didn’t want to.”
Worried about his job, Stoneberry continued to work the shift and saw some of Banff and Bankhead’s worst traffic that year. He was struck by a tour bus on Canada Day.
Shortly after the accident, his WCB claim was denied. Parks refuted the claim arguing Stoneberry was “conducting a personal errand on lunch” and left the work premises. “We empathize with Mr. Stoneberry, but cannot be responsible for employees when they are not on the clock or in their assigned zones,” Warden Scooter Duggart explained. “Just last month a train killed five contract Elk on their way home from work, three goats were struck by gondolas, and a beaver overdosed after a particularly rowdy Sunday.”
However, the WCB’s Wildlife Performers Subcommitee discovered that the “lunch break” that Parks alleges Stoneberry took was to cross the road to eat more dandelion. With the approval of the claim Stoneberry plans to use the payout of his wages to do a working holiday in Australia for the winter season. Satisfied with the outcome, the bear hopes his victory is a message to the employers in Banff National Park who choose to mistreat the local wildlife.
“With the sharp increase in tourism, wildlife employment in the Park has skyrocketed. But so have issues of safety, fair wages, and species discrimination,” said Linda Whitetail, a deer and Banff-based labour dispute lawyer. “The most common cases we see now are employers placing animals in unsafe working conditions—especially with the rise of social media”.
In response to growing labour law infractions, several groups of local wildlife formed union chapters over the past 20 years. These include the International Beavers 404, the Ungulate 420 collective, and Porcupine Brake Lines and Mechanical #5.
Parks issued a statement that they will not appeal the ruling but will look closely at whether or not they will continue working with contract bears.