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Anti Trophy Hunting
Anti Trophy Hunting
The biggest Anti-Hunter-vs-Sport-Hunter showdown in history
The biggest
Anti-Hunter-vs-Sport-Hunter
showdown
in history

This can be seen as the sequel to my blog titled “Bloody Superstition and New Cosmology”.

An Angus Reed poll taken in 1995 showed that 78% of the people in British Columbia supported banning Black bear hunting in BC. The support for banning the hunting of Grizzly bears ran even higher.

Accordingly, I proposed to Paul George, founder of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, of which I was then a campaigner, that if we could get the issue on a referendum ballot, we could win.

What followed is outlined in the following excerpt from Chapter 52 (of 68) of Paul’s new book (2006) titled “BIG TREES, NOT BIG STUMPS”.

A Concerted Effort to Ban Bear Hunting
Ban Bear Hunting Initiative
Brainchild of an impromptu brainstorming session
 
by
Paul George
 Founder of
Western Canada Wilderness Committee

In March of ‘96 during one of our evening brainstorming session at Greek Characters Pub, we thought up a new way to get (Anthony Marr’s) BET’R (Bears, Elephants, Tiger and Rhino) campaign into high gear. “Let’s be the first one to use BC’s Recall and Initiative Act to get a ban on trophy hunting of bears, like Anthony suggests,” I blurted out as we unwound over a few cold pints. The BC government passes this unique act in 1995 and it had come into force four months earlier. I had a general idea of how an initiative worked in other jurisdictions. It involved circulating a petition to gather signatures from people who supported a proposed piece of legislation.
If the proponent got the require signatures, citizens got the opportunity to vote on the proposal in a referendum and if the majority voted yes, it became law.

“Good idea,” was the general consensus around our table. Someone offhandedly said, “Why don’t you check it out?” That was enough of a green light for me.

I quickly learned that advancing an Initiative under BC’s Recall and Initiatives Act was an extremely complicated and convoluted process. For starters, it was impossible for WCWC to launch an initiative to ban bear hunting. The law only allows an individual (and only one) to be the proponent of an Initiative. At the same time it allowed an unlimited number of people and organizations to register to oppose it.

I also found out that we had already lost our chance to be the first one to launch one. At the end of 1995, right after the legislation was proclaimed, three citizens had tried. But they all quit after barely getting started. Not one of them handed in a single signed petition sheet. So, if we launched a ban bear hunting initiative and actually collected signatures and handed them in, we’d be the first to actually try out the new law…

Every canvasser had to be authorized by Elections BC. There was a different petition sheet for each of BC’s 79 electoral districts. All signatures had to be collected within a 90-day period… Little did I know at the exciting beginning of this effort that I’d become an expert in an obscure “made to fail” law that was theoretically supposed to expand democracy but instead ensnared those involved in a bureaucratic nightmare…

Having just received a large donation from a person who wanted us to campaign to protect bears, we decided an Initiative campaign would be an effective way to spend it. While we were at it, we’d also campaign to establish grizzly bear sanctuaries. For without even a shot being fired, scientists predicted that the threatened grizzle bear would be driven into extinction in BC if all large tracks of wilderness in BC were roaded or logged or mined…

Then there was the requirement that notice of our Initiative be published in the BC Gazette (the government’s publication of official announcements) allowing 60 days after the notice for opponents to register. During the 60 days I garnered 107 opponents. They included practically every rod-and-gun clubs in the province. These organizations were “gunning” for us right from the start. So instead of getting started on our 90-day signature gathering period in mid-summer as we’d planned, we were delayed until early September.

The star foot soldier in my WCWC, backed Initiative campaign was Anthony Marr, our BET’R campaigner. From the moment we conceived of the idea he was keen on it. In fact, he was fearless in his support. In June and July, before the 90-day signature gathering process began, he toured on his own around all of BC, even the north, to raise awareness, educate people and recruit canvassers who would gather signatures when the Initiative officially got underway. [Eventually, we put together a volunteer team 1,800 strong.] On this road trip Anthony visited over 50 cities and towns and traveled 12,000 km to present slideshows at public meetings and pre-sign-up canvassers. Everywhere he went he also stirred up hornet’s nests of angry hunters who opposed the Initiative.

At least a couple of enraged hunters showed up to protest at each public event. Due to the conflicts that ensued, our ban bear hunting initiative got extensively covered in local media. Anthony was relentless in his pursuit of media coverage and he kept meticulous track of it. According to his account, he was interviewed by newspaper reporters more than 150 times, and was featured on TV and radio more than a dozen times during that pre-Initiative trip.

Anthony could not be intimidated. He believed that his Chinese Canadian heritage gave him a unique opportunity to take on this racially charged conservation issue. He had tirelessly crusaded against poaching and the illegal trade in bear gall bladders. He had already gone directly into Chinatown stores in Vancouver and exposed the illegal trade of tiger bone products and been chased out by angry store owners. This did not endear him to a certain segment of the Chinese community that profited from this trade.

He quickly became the pariah of BC’s hunting fraternity, too. [One newspaper article described Anthony as "the most hated man in BC".]

The following excerpt from a July 5, 1996, newspaper article in The Prince George Citizen by Gordon Hoekstra about a meeting held in Prince George during the first week of July provides a snapshot of what Anthony’s public meetings were like. The article, entitled Fur Flies At Meeting to Ban Bear Hunts, began as follows:

“It was barely civil and sometimes downright ugly. In the end, it took a representative of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee close to two hours to deliver a plea for help to ban bear hunting in BC. Anthony Marr was interrupted, shouted down, and generally abused by hunters in an audience of more than 100 that spilled out of the conference room at the Civic Centre Thursday evening…”

Anthony couldn’t see any difference between killing a bear for its gall bladder and paws and killing a bear for its head and hide. As he put it, Hunters go for the head and hide and poachers go for the gall and paws; they’re all bear parts. Of course, physically and morally there is no difference, but under the current law in BC there was and still is one.

One activity is legal under licensed circumstances and the other one is illegal at all times. According to Anthony, the discrimination against Asian uses was taken into account by judges who consequently gave convicted bear poachers and merchants who dealt in illegal bear gall bladders low fines. They never got jail sentences. Because of the growing marlet for these “medicinal” products, the minimal enforcement of wildlife laws and paltry punishment of convicted offenders, bear poaching is increasing.

At the packed meeting rooms one of the questions hunters frequently ask was, “Why are we being persecuted when the real culprits are the poachers?”

Anthony replied, “Both are culprits. The difference between a hunter and a poacher is irrelevant if you’re a bear.”

Prohunting advocates constantly harassed Anthony on this trip and throughout the whole campaign. Pickup trucks routinely tailgated his car and he received anonymous threats of violence by phone. His blunt unflappable style infuriated the opposition.

“Deep down inside, it’s a moral issue, “ Anthony asserted repeatedly. “It’s immoral to kill for entertainment. And abominable that adults teach their children to kill for fun.”…

Then there was the harassment. Instead of intelligently relying on the unworkable rules of BC’s Initiative legislation to defeat us, the BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF) went “ballistic” in attacking us. They launched an intense fundraising campaign saying that they needed a $40,000 war chest to counter our efforts. They told people that poaching was not out of control, that bear populations (including grizzly bear populations) were healthy and could support hunting, and that hunting was a valid way for wildlife officials to manage wild animal populations.

We could handle debating those opinions, but the BCWF did not stop there. In the fall issue of its magazine Outdoor Edge, BCWF executive director Doug Walker breached the boundaries of free speech with his rhetoric. In his editorial column he passionately urged his membership to donate money and actively oppose the Initiative, likening WCWC to “terrorist groups who threaten human lives, burn houses, send razor blades in the mail or kill family pets to get attention.”

This was an outrageous and deliberate act of defamation. It was also kind of ironic because BCWF John Holdstock had been quoted in the press about a week earlier as saying, “even if all the logic is on our side, it is hard to counter emotion," referring to our moral arguments against killing bears for sport. Our organization was well known for always being law-abiding. We never once used even peaceful civil disobedience as a tactic.

Our lawyer immediately prepared to launch a libel suit in the BC Supreme Court against the BCWF’s Executive Director Doug Walker and President John Holdstock informing them of our intent. He got quick results. BCWF admitted its mistake. He negotiated and got BCWF to pull the fall issue if its magazine off newsstand shelves, place an ad of apology in the major and local papers and pay for our entire lawyer’s bill. (I never saw that bill but I’m sure it was a bundle!) Our success in getting this issue of BCWF’s magazine banned was covered in a short article titled Hunted Down by The Law in the September 1996 issue of Canada’s foremost national newsmagazine Macleans. It was the only time I know when WCWC’s activity was reported in this influential periodical. The brief article began this way:

“It was a case of ready, fire, aim for the BC Wildlife Federation, a group representing hunters in BC. With 25,000 copies of the September/October issue of its magazine Outdoor Edge, already delivered to the BC members, the BC group had to abruptly cancel the remainder of its distribution, pull 60 copies from store shelves, and print a public apology in Vancouver newspapers last week…”

But by the time the BCWF took corrective action, most of the damage had already been done because the magazine was already in the hands of its 20,000 members. The public apology did little to counter the utterly false “eco-terrorist” label the BCWF members had been fed. BCWF members kept harassing our canvassers. But I felt the BCWF’s defamatory tactics contributed, more sinisterly, to the growing demonization of environmentalists by many rednecks, which culminated a few years down the road in Premier Glen Clark’s infamous branding of environmentalists as “enemies of BC”. This vilification snowballed into loggers’ brutal attacks against peaceful protesters in the Elaho valley and elsewhere in BC.

After about two months, it became painfully obvious to me that we were not going to get the needed signatures. Worse, we were not even going to come close… In the Peace River North electoral district, we had only one canvasser trying to get signatures. This brave person said he would only sign up his sympathetic friends and would not go public because of possible reprisals from outraged redneck hunters.

We had to do better or we would become a laughing stock and do more harm than good for the cause. At another of our WCWC brainstorming sessions at Greek Characters, we came up with two brilliant ideas. We would send a signature-gathering expedition into the north and we would organize a canvassing blitz outside polling stations on Municipal Election Day…

The bold expedition into the “redneck” north
to collect signatures on the Initiative Petition

Are there any canvassers who will go to Prince George?” I asked Bonita. “Can we rent a van cheaply? Will we get media coverage?” I got a quick answer to the first three.

Besides Anthony, who understood the importance of doing well on the Initiative and actually seemed to thrive on confrontation, Barney Kern, a plucky young environmental radical with a quick-witted mouth, volunteered to drive the van. Four other Initiative canvassers also volunteered to pay their own way and go along. Evelyn Kirkaldy, a talented artist who loved bears and who had already personally collected over a thousand signatures, around Vancouver, made a giant banner draped over the side of the van everywhere they stopped. Everyone heading north was more afraid of the cold than they were of potential violence from the pro bearing hunters. This being Canada, we were certain that the ugliest confrontations would only entail verbal abuse.

The TV media covered the departure of our ban-bear-hunting caravan from our 20 Water Street office. Getting TV news coverage was important. We held hundreds of protest pickets and rallies over the years, but if the event didn’t make TV news (and most of them didn’t), hardly anyone knew it happened. At our bear caravan launch, thank goodness, the TV and print media both came out and no one asked us questions that would have exposed how Don Quixotic this effort really was.

Neither the northern trip, nor the polling station blitzes worked out quite as well as we had envisioned. On their way up north, our valiant crew (and their two-vehicle convoy with Anthony driving a rental car) ran into miserable mid-November weather - freezing rain and heavy snowfall. They finally reached Prince George at 3 a.m. 

Exhausted, Barney pulled into a parking lot to spend the rest of the night. There was an arch above the entryway he judged he could easily clear. He didn’t. There was a tremendous crunch and the nice warm comfortable RV instantly into a huge uninhabitable deep freeze. Barney had forgotten that an air conditioner stuck up about half-a-meter above the van’s roof. The unit tore complete off, leaving a big gaping hole. Luckily, we had supporters living in Prince George who put our crew up in their homes.

When Barney called to tell me about the accident, I resisted saying, “What a stupid move,” and instead said, “No problem. We’ll handle it when we return the van.” I was happy that they arrived safely and no one was hurt...

Chilly temperatures and a posse of hunters who dogged our canvassers made signature gathering in Prince George difficult. But despite frozen pens and open hostility, the canvassers did a remarkably good job. Gordon Hoekstra summed up their effort in his article titled “Bear ‘Ban-Wagon’ Gets Cool Reception” (Prince George Citizen, November 16, 1996):

“Battling the wind and -10C temperatures, WCWC canvassers from Vancouver set up tables Friday at the intersection of Victoria Street and 7th Avenue to gather signatures… Hunter Brad Davis stopped to protest…”

As the campaign culminated in an intense effort during the last few weeks, incidences of harassment, including hunters standing beside canvassers arguing with anyone contemplating signing the petition, were reported to me on a daily basis. There was really nothing I could do about it. I commiserated with the canvassers for sticking it out in spite of the heavy-handed tactics on the part of our opponents.

A Prince George Free Press reporter, making no effort to hide his bias, wrote a column on November 29th titled “Bear Hunting Ban Signers Should Be Proud”. In it he said: “I was not surprised by the intimidating, dirty behavior of some wildlife killers during the Western Canada Wilderness Committee’s visit… Some wildlife killers and their supporters carried over their violent actions from defenseless animals to non-violent animal supporters, going as far as to tear up a petition sheet with signatures.”

(To see the conclusion of the campaign please see the Anti-Trophy-Hunting section of www.HOPE-CARE.org.)

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