City of Victoria workers worried decapitated cougar story would be leaked: Documents

CHEK
A photo of the decapitated cougar, with a dead raccoon placed near its head, is shown in this image from the FOI request.

More information about a grisly incident involving the decapitation of a deceased cougar is coming to light, after CHEK News filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for details on the matter.

On Nov. 21, Victoria police officers shot and killed a cougar that was first seen in a residential neighbourhood in the Gorge area around 5 a.m.

Nearly 12 hours later, around 4:30 p.m., a video sent to CHEK News shows officers shooting the cougar in the 300-block of Waterfront Crescent.

Police said they shot the cougar because they were concerned it would be near families around school time, and because of the time it would take for conservation officers to arrive.

Internally, one City of Victoria worker said the cougar was shot five times, according to the FOI information. CHEK News has reached out to VicPD for further details.

In the days that followed the cat’s killing, CHEK News received several tips that the body of the cougar was brought to a City of Victoria facility, where it was later decapitated.

The municipality and the BC Conservation Officer Service (BCCOS) remained tight-lipped about the allegations, at first only saying the matter was under investigation.

The BCCOS was the first to break the silence, telling CHEK News on Dec. 8 that the head had indeed been removed, but had since been returned and that a person had been written a warning for unlawful possession of wildlife under the province’s wildlife act.

“The cougar head was promptly returned to the COS,” the statement said. “The individual was co-operative throughout the investigation and expressed remorse for their actions.”

It would be another month before the city confirmed that a municipal worker had been fired for the incident.

Timeline and concerns

Files given to CHEK News through the FOI request show that the municipality wanted to remain quiet about the issue for as long as possible.

“My suggestion is that we acknowledge there is a matter under investigation but provide no further comment at this time,” wrote William Doyle, assistant director of Victoria public works, in an email dated to Dec. 1.

In another text exchange on the same day, city manager Jocelyn Jenkins expressed concern that the cougar incident has been made public.

“Morning. We now have a media call on the cougar. They have all the details…” she wrote.

An unnamed staffer responded by saying:

“Okay. At minimum I presume we can acknowledge there is a matter under investigation but with the Conservation Service also investigating, I suppose we should say no further comment at this time.”

Photos uncovered by the FOI request show the decapitated cougar next to a raccoon carcass.

“7:30 a.m. whole cat,” reads an undated text exchange, which included the photos.

“11:30 a.m. no head. Dead raccoon at the head,” the next text reads.

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A photo of the cougar before it was decapitated is shown in this image from the FOI request.

In a statement Wednesday, the City of Victoria said the racoon carcass was placed in the same bin as the dead cougar in preparation to be transferred to a landfill, as is city practice.

A photo of the decapitated cougar, with a dead raccoon placed near its head, is shown in this image from the FOI request.

A different text exchange dated to Dec. 4 shows that workers were nervous when news of the decapitation started to spread.

“Omg the cougar incident was just on the news,” reads a text exchange involving a city worker on Dec. 4, which refers to an article posted on Victoria Buzz on Dec. 1.

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An earlier text exchange dated to Nov. 22 by two unnamed staffers says conservation officers weren’t pleased with the beheading.

“Conservation lady didn’t seem very impressed. It was like she didn’t know the head was missing,” says one worker.

“They were not impressed,” responds the other.

“Well, to be honest, I hope they catch who did it,” says the first worker.

Possible criminal charges

Emails between city staff indicate that there was only a three-hour window when the head could have been removed from the cougar and stolen.

On an email thread dating to Nov. 22, staff say they picked up the cougar carcass from VicPD at 4:20 p.m. on Nov. 21.

By 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 22, staff reported that the carcass was intact and delivered to the public works yard.

By 8 a.m., “staff were going to send to Hartland for burial, noticed head was missing,” the email reads.

With the head missing, conservation officers told city workers that a criminal investigation may have to take place.

“He [a conservation officer supervisor] explained that it was a criminal offense to remove the body part, and they would be investigating with the intent of criminal prosecution,” wrote city worker Jason Harvey.

“He indicated that all Public Works staff with access to the Yard would be part of the investigation. He also said that it would be very helpful, and may prevent an investigation, if the head were to return overnight.”

Internally, the city thought the “quickest way to return it would be best” and by 6 a.m. the next day, the head had been returned.

City staff wrote that conservation officers were no longer expected to pursue charges. However, the BCCOS did still want to speak with the person who removed the head, staff noted.

“They [the conservation service] expressed some understanding that in the moment a person, especially a hunter, could see this as an interesting opportunity without understanding that it’s inappropriate,” an email from Nov. 23 reads.

On Dec. 1, when asked by CHEK News if any city workers had been fired in relation to the incident, the city said it “cannot comment on specific personnel matters,” but that all inappropriate workplace behaviour allegations are investigated, and could result in disciplinary action, including termination.

A month later, on Jan. 8, the city confirmed that a municipal worker had been “terminated” for taking the cougar’s head.

The FOI request did not include any further details on the fired employee, and some portions of the documents were redacted.

With files from CHEK’s Laura Brougham

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