Cat. 3, Activism 2 – BL-39 – First Victory!

Cat. 3, Activism 2 – BL-39 – First Victory!

Ch. 39 –  First Victory

1997-04-24 The Georgia Straight magazine, Vancouver, BC, Canada
by Shawn Blore

Bloody Superstition

Pessimist give the world’s tigers 5 years. Realists, 10.

They’re the kind of numbers that make you want to quietly despair, to give up, to flip the channel and think about something more pleasant. Melrose Place maybe, or Roseanne. Anthony Marr, however, whether from a sense of conceit, ignorance, or a staggering sense of confidence, saw nothing impossible in the task of bringing the tiger back from the brink…

… To highlight the extent of Vancouver’s tiger trade, Marr kicked off a media blitz in January 1996. Local journalists were invited on an endangered species tour through Chinatown’s apothecaries. The tour began in the low-ceilinged warren that serves as Western Canada Wilderness Committee’s headquarters. Marr upended his briefcase, spilling out 15-20 boxes of Chinese patent medicines: tiger plasters, tiger pills, tiger-based medicaments for rheumatism, tired blood, soft bones, and sexual impotence, all of them purchased in shops in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Pointing to the ingredients lists on the diverse packages, Marr picked out the symbols, words, and phrases that in Latin, English and Chinese spelled out “tiger bone”.

The next part of the tour was a trip along Pender, Main and Keefer Streets, with Marr indicating here and there the shops and apothecaries dealing in tiger medicinals and inviting journalists to go in and check the shelves for themselves. Six shops out of 10 stocked a variety of boxes, cartons and bottles labeled with some variation of the word Os Tigris – tiger bone.

The media loved it. Marr made it on to TV news both locally and nationally, and stories appeared in city magazines and community papers. He used his pulpit to heap scorn upon Canadian wildlife regulations. “Canada’s wildlife laws could use an aphrodisiac,’ Marr said, “because right now, they’re totally impotent.” He was equally hard-hitting in his presentations to Chinese community groups and at Eastside Vancouver high schools. Traditional Chinese medicine’s use of parts of animals like tigers and rhinos, Marr said, and the cutting of many urban trees for that matter, were based on nothing but pure superstition. That superstition was destroying a magnificent species. The fact that the practice was tolerated by the Chinese-Canadian community only blackened their reputation in mainstream Canadian society.

Environmentalists heaved a sigh of relief. Here was someone tackling a problem they had long known about but dared not touch. “It’s great that it’s a Chinese person doing the work he’s doing.” said Nathalie Chalifour, World Wildlife Fund Canada’s tiger expert, “because when it’s a person like me doing it, well, I’m white; I’m more likely to be accused to being racist, which is really unfortunate, but it does happen.”

Vancouver’s Chinese media were as quick to jump on the story as their English counterparts. Marr’s campaign was covered by both the Ming Pao and the Sing Tao newspapers, and he appeared on several Chinese language radio programs. According to Ming Pao columnist and CJVB radio host Gabriel Yiu, the Chinese community’s reaction to Marr’s campaign was mixed. His straight talk on superstition did offend some, but there was also those who took pride in the fact that a Chinese Canadian was working on environmental concerns. “For a long period of time when people are talking about monster homes, tree cutting, killing wild animals for some of their body parts,” Yiu said, “people do have the impression that the Chinese community is the cause of that. I think the work Anthony did set a very good example that we do have people in the Chinese community who are concerned about these issues.”…

According to Vancouver city councillor Don Lee, Marr’s effectiveness was limited… “I don’t know Anthony Marr that well. The Chinese Community doesn’t know him well at all,” Lee said. “We don’t know where he comes from. We don’t know why he’s doing all this.” As it turns out, those are two of the most interesting questions that could be asked about Anthony Marr…

(The rest of this article was presented in Ch. 33.)

Most of my friends were and are Caucasian. Back in 1995, I had TV buddies of common interest, namely wildlife. Once a week or so, we’d get together to watch National Geographic over beer or tea (mine was tea). I loved these buddies of mine and these get-togethers, but there was often one thing that made me feel uncomfortable. Whenever an endangered species was touched upon and the Chinese use of animal parts in their traditional medicine was named as a cause of their endangerment, I would find myself on needles and pins due to my Chinese lineage, and became keenly aware that everyone else in the room was doing their best to try not glancing at me. Finally, when again it happened, I said during a commercial break, “Look at me. Tell me what you are thinking.”

Ron, the most loud-mouthed of the bunch, cleared his throat and said, “Well, now that you ask, I think it sucks. But we’re honkies. It would be ‘politically incorrect’ if I said it.”

Now, all eyes were on me like lasers. I swallowed hard, then said, “Alright, I’ll do it,” though I had no idea how to go about doing it.

That was in the summer of 1995.

Some time in October, I received an invitation from a Robert Baker from a BC animal advocacy group called Bear Watch to attend a talk on the illegal global animal trafficking by a British investigative activist named Peter Knights in Vancouver’s Chinatown. I went, and the presentation changed my life. The content of the presentation was outlined in an article by Knights published in early November titled “From Forest to Pharmacy”. Thus, I found my point of entry into the vast Animal Rights and Animal Welfare dual-movement.

Within days, I had launched my own self-directed, self-executed and self-funded “one-man crusade” to investigate Vancouver’s Chinatown. By late November, I had checked out each and every one of the 33 traditional Chinese apothecaries for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) containing endangered species ingredients. To my astonishment, and dismay, and a tinge of excitement, I found highly packaged “patent medicines” galore, listing ingredients from tiger bone to rhino horn to bear bile… prominently displayed on shelves in all of the stores with no exception. I made a list of them, placing stars next to their names in terms of photogenicity, location appeal and TV potential.

While doing so, I checked out Canadian law, and found a huge loophole that made it look like a smuggler’s laughing stock. International law had it that no two nations, Canada included, could trade in endangered species in whole or part, dead or alive. Not that Canadian customs did not check shipping containers from the Orient, but the Canadian government plainly admitted that customs had enough man power to check only 2% of all incoming shipping containers, meaning that 98% of all illegal shipments simply slipped through. To complete the loophole, the 2% discovered were simply confiscated, with nothing more than a light monetary fine attached, which smugglers considered merely “the cost of doing business”.

The 98% that slipped through would enter Chinatown and be displayed for sale with impunity, the reason being that there was no Canadian law governing the sale of these globally banned products once they have entered the country. It’s like the Canadian government yelling to the smugglers, “Hey, if you are smart enough to smuggle the stuff through customs, we’d let you sell it openly.”

I thought hard as to how to rid Chinatown of these products, and concluded on two alternative strategies. One was to go into Chinatown and soft-talk to the store owners asking them politely to voluntarily rid themselves of these internationally illegal and ecologically destructive items, and to politely ask the Chinese people in Vancouver to please not used and buy them. The other was to use media to blow the lid off and blast the contents out to the mainstream consciousness, which could motivate the general Canadian populace to press the Canadian government to create a law to ban the sale of such items anywhere within the country, such that the merchants would have no choice but to abide. The former looked to me like a pipe dream, and even if it could work, it would take a couple of generations at least to take effect. The endangered species simply didn’t have that kind of time. So I opted for the latter.

By late-November, I was ready for action. At that point, I was just an unknown individual. I sent out media releases about my findings, and asked specific TV stations, one at a time, to come to Chinatown to document me openly buying these products off the shelf. Not a single one of them turned me down.

In one of these operations, the one with the CBC, I had the camera park his equipment across the street, but with the camera pointed down the street as if doing a tourism shoot. They got me wired up with concealed mic, and surreptitiously rotate the camera toward the store when I crossed the street to enter it. I went straight to the shelf where I knew the endangered species products were being displayed, picked out a few samples, paid for them at the counter, exited the store, crossed the street back to the TV camera to which I presented to it the items I had just bought off the counter – all while the camera was rolling non-stop.

By the time I had done all three of Vancouver’s main TV stations – CBC-TV, BCTV and Global TV – Chinatown was all abuzz, and the TV-coverage had gone national. Activists from Victoria BC, Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario, wrote me and asked me to do the same with their own Chinatowns. I spent $100 to go to Victoria by ferry, but I did not have a deep enough pocket to fly across the continent at will. In mid-December, I took my campaign, and the media-coverage I had won, to the best environmental group I could find, and asked for its support.

The Western Canada Wilderness Committee was a Vancouver-based environmental group specializing in wilderness preservation, one forest at a time. It had 28,000 paid members, a full time paid staff of about a dozen, a part-time staff of about eight, and hundreds of volunteers. Since its inception in 1981 by founder Paul George, an ex-“draft dodger” from Wisconsin, it had campaigned successfully in saving such pristine places as South Morseby Island, the Kutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, the Stein Valley, Carmanah and Clayoquot Sound, for posterity. People call it WCWC, or, usually with affection, “W-C-squared”. To me, off the bat, it proved once and for all that “draft-dodger” does not mean “coward”, nor “lazy”, nor “unpatriotic”. On the contrary, it could mean a great fighter, like Paul George, given the right cause of his own choosing or creation.

In 1996, Paul George served as one of WCWC’s four executive directors, the other three being campaigners Adriane Carr, who was also George’s spouse, Joe Foy, whose handsome face appeared on TV often, and comptroller Brian Conner.

One day in November 1995, I called Paul by phone and said directly, “Hello, Mr. George. I’m calling to see if your organization has room for one more campaign.”

“What do you have in mind?” asked Paul.

I briefly summarized what I had done so far, and said that I needed to spend full time on it, with support, to make it fly. Then I requested a meeting. Paul agreed without hesitation.

On the set date, with Adriane away and Brian busy in financial matters, Paul and Joe met with me in the board room of WCWC’s maze-like warren in Vancouver’s Gas-Town, during which I presented a package containing newspaper clippings and audio-video tapes of newscasts on what I called the BET’R campaign (BET’R standing for Bear, Elephant, Tiger and Rhino), and the thirty letters from professors as a general character and competence reference. They heard me out, asked a couple of questions, then set a second meeting for a week later, so that I could meet Adriane Carr as well.

During the second meeting, in which I was impressed by Adriane’s feel of authority, Paul told me that WCWC would take on the BET’R Campaign, with me retained as its lead campaigner. The salary was $30,000 per annum, which was substantially lower than my salary at Zenon, but it was the same salary that Paul, Adriane and Joe paid themselves. I gladly put my signature on the dotted line.

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January 8, 1996, Mon.
Victoria Times Colonist
by Malcolm Curtis

[Tiger, tiger, put it right]

Weak laws ‘to blame’ for elixirs and pills which contains parts of endangered species

There are only about 4,000 wild tigers left in the world, but traditional Chinese medicines containing tissue and bones of tigers are openly sold in Victoria’s Chinatown.

Other elixirs and pills, using parts of endangered species, continue to be sold across the country because of weak provincial and federal laws, says a Chinese-Canadian environmentalist committed to stamp out the practice.

Anthony Marr, born in China, raised in Hong Kong, but a BC resident for 30 years, is lobbying to change traditional Chinese medicine in this country, so that it meets environmentally sound principles.

“If major endangered species of the world – bear, elephant, tiger and rhino, among others – become extinct as a result of Chinese demand for their body parts, I would consider that a capital crime against nature,” Marr said in an interview.
“I would like to wipe out that demand to save the species, and save the Chinese reputation while at it.”

Marr, 52, is a campaigner for the Vancouver-based, 29,000-members-strong Western Canada Wilderness Committee to halt the sale of exotic animal parts. That includes bear gall bladders taken from poached Grizzly and Black bears in BC and illicitly sold to customers in Asia.

Marr produced half a dozen packages from an attaché case of examples of medicines sold by Chinatown apothecaries in Vancouver with tiger bones and bear bile ingredients.

A survey of 20 apothecaries in Vancouver by the Washington-DC-based Investigative Network showed 13 sold such medicines. At Victoria’s Fung Hing Hong Co. Chinese Herbs, 614 Fisgard Street, $6.75 packages of tiger bone plaster from China were openly displayed on sale Thursday.

With tigers disappearing at the rate of one a day in India and two a day worldwide, “it just blows your mind to see this sort of thing being allowed in Canada,” said Joe Foy of the WCWC.

“Some forms of Chinese healing believe that powerful animals should make powerful medicine, and that their organs can be used to heal their corresponding human body parts,” said Marr.

Through a quirk of law, it is illegal to import such animal parts into Canada, but it is okay to sell them once they’ve been smuggled into the country.

Born near Canton, China, Marr was raised in a Hong Kong family that used traditional Chinese medicines to cure his childhood ailments. “I highly respect plant-based Chinese traditional herbal medicine, which was developed painstakingly by trial and error over thousands of year, and they do work,” said Marr, “but the use of animals parts, a relative new-comer, developed mostly along lines of superstition, is another matter.” . . .

A report published in November 1995 by Humane Society International says that global profits from the illegal global trade of endangered species were estimated by Interpol at $6 billion US annually.

The report says that in addition to the 40,000 bears legally killed in North America, 40,000 to 80,000 were poached. Demand for bear gall bladders and bear paws was the driving force in the illegal hunt, the report concludes. . . .

WCWC’s Joe Foy noted that North America is one of the last havens for bears since they have become seriously endangered in other continents. While Canadian bears are not yet endangered, the threat from the demand for animal parts is serious, he said. . . .

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January 21, 1996, Sun.
The Vancouver Courier
by Kerry Gold

Chinese Activist Fearless – drive to end cruelty to animals began at age 10

In the low-ceilinged maze that is the Western Canada Wilderness Committee office, a search for Anthony Marr locates him tucked into a corner desk with his laptop computer and posters of bears, elephants, tigers and rhinos.

Marr, a young-looking 52, has been a busy activist the last three months. A fixture at the WCWC offices since the Committee took on his BET’R (Bear, Elephant, Tiger & Rhino) Campaign in November last year, he’s also been campaigning to save city trees from the chainsaw.

WCWC founder Paul George says the Committee has budgeted $100,000 for the campaign locally and in Asia, and to produce printed materials that will further the cause. . . .

Marr’s campaign to save the environment has garnered him attention from the media, schools, politicians, other environmentalists, and the general public. He’s been on TV news half a dozen times. Numerous articles have been written about him in various newspapers and magazines since his BET’R Campaign started last year.

Environmentalist are hardly in short supply, so why does everybody want to talk with Anthony Marr?

He guesses it’s got something to do with the fact that he’s a Chinese Canadian who’s unafraid to criticize the Chinese community for a lack of environmental awareness. He also isn’t afraid to criticize other cultures for failing to pick up the cause. In these culturally hypersensitive times, Marr could be the fearless spokesman to bridge the cultural divide…

On his outreach into the Chinese community, however, he hasn’t always encountered a warm reception. He estimates that over half of the incoming calls on Chinese language radio talk shows are critical of what he is doing. He’s been advised by other Chinese to not condemn the use of animal parts outright, or criticize Asian demand.

Marr’s response? “I’ve got to be accountable first and foremost to myself. I’m not going to compromise myself by worrying about offending certain people. You can’t please everybody.”

Marr was born near Canton in 1944. When the Communists took over five years later, the Marr family fled to Hong Kong as refugees. He moved to Canada at 21 and attended the University of Manitoba for one year before coming to attend UBC. “I passed over Vancouver on my way to Winnipeg and was enchanted by its beauty. It was love at first sight.”

When he was as young as 10, he knew he wanted to end cruelty inflicted on animals worldwide. He remembers seeing a snake being skinned alive in a Southeast Asian meat market, and films of dogs in a Vietnamese market with their front legs tied behind their backs.

Today, he’s fighting such atrocities as wild animals being poached to supply superstitious medicinal demands…

The demand for tiger bone, rhino horn, bear gall and bear paw have generated enough poaching to have driven the tiger, all five species of rhino, and five out of eight species of bear to the brink of extinction. Now, the Grizzly and Black bears in BC are facing the immense poaching pressure displaced from Asia. . . .

To put the problem in perspective, the number of tigers left in the world, about 4,500, would fill only about a quarter of an NHL hockey stadium, one tiger per seat, he says. Meanwhile, the number of bears killed in Canada last year, but recreational hunting, trophy hunting, and, yes, poaching, could fill three stadiums, one dead bear per seat.

And while Marr is looking to his own culture to help remedy the growing problem, all cultures, he says, must do some soul searching. “Every culture has a hand in causing the problem, so every culture has a part to play in the solution.”

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January 28, 1996, Sun.
The Vancouver Courier

Animal torture justifies anger

To the Editor

Your article on Anthony Marr (“Chinese activist fearless”, Jan. 21) was an eye-opener. Now I realize why those who struggle for ethical treatment of animals are so vehemently angry.

To think there are “humans” in the world (Seoul) who would cage a bear and lower it onto hot coals to cook its paws while it was alive should frighten us all! And this torture is to make a bowl of bear paw soup. It is barbaric.

A boycott of products from these bear-torturing nations is called for, plus support for Marr in his efforts.

Mrs. V. Kennedy,

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February 9, 1996, Fri.

From my field journal

The late night’s talk show on Chinese radio AM 1320 Wednesday was revealing. Here is proof that in spite of the supportive coverage in media, or perhaps because of it, I am not winning any popularity contest in the Chinese community.

During the hour-long open line interview, I fielded about ten calls, at least six of them hostile. I was pelted by questions such as: “What is more important – people or animals?”, “Why are you working for animals against people?”, “Our glorious culture dates back five thousand years. Who are you to taint it?”, “You’re a Chinese person yourself. Why are you trying to blacken the Chinese reputation?”, “How much are your white cronies paying you?”, and one statement: “You are a traitor!”

After the show, I called my parents from the radio station, whom I knew listened to the program regularly. I did it with a certain amount of trepidation, for I knew what to expect, especially from my mother, and I didn’t relish it. Still, I felt obliged to make the call. If I didn’t, she would try all night to contact me, and without speaking to me first, she wouldn’t get any sleep. As expected, she was openly frightened, and tried again to persuade me to abandon my enemy-making pursuit, citing to me what happened to Lum Bun.

Lum Bun was a young radio personality in Hong Kong back in the 1950s when I was a kid. There was this prime time radio satire-sitcom about a family, the youngest member of which being the dearly beloved teenager named Tseew Jai. Tseew Jai loved life, and loved many things in life, not the least his family, but hated one thing with a passion – government oppression, or at least the way it was administered in China back then – and, as is typical of the very young, he pulled no punches when he spoke out against it. Tseew Jai was played by another teenager who felt the same way, and was just as outspoken. The name of this young actor was Lum Bun. In essence, by acting Tseew Jai, Lum Bun acted himself. Tseew Jai and Lum Bun were one. Both were equally adored, and one of their great admirers was an even younger boy named Seeu Sung, who was still several years from being baptised as Anthony. In the mean time, all three boys (one fictitious and two real) grew and went their separate ways. In 1965, while Lum Bun had developed into a mature broadcaster, I took my one way flight from Hong Kong to Canada in pursuit of my higher education and whatever fate lay there awaiting me.

One day some years later, I read in a Chinese newspaper that after a live broadcast, Lum Bun returned to his vehicle – a VW Beetle as I recall – and, just when he was about to drive away, a pack of hoodlums jumped the car, flipped it over on its roof, poured gasoline over it and set it on fire. Lum Bun was burned alive at the scene, survived only by his legend, and that of Tseew Jai.

Back to the radio interview, before I exited the radio station, I looked out the front window, and saw a few punks loitering outside the front door. My motorcycle was parked at the end of the block. I snuck out the back door, walked around the buildings, got on my bike and, without waiting for the engine to warm up, roared away into the night. This of course I kept to myself, and especially from my mother.

In spite of myself, and my love for my mother, I felt a tinge of deep resentment. I had worked hard to overcome my own fear, and to a large extent had succeeded, but now, I would have to take her fear upon myself, and there was no getting away from it. It was annoying to me as an isolated incident, but infuriating as a pattern. I felt guilty for my oft unappreciative responses to her well-meant admonitions, but most of all, I hated her fear.

Unfortunately, within my mother, who was then 77, lurked an even deeper fear – not as much of her own inevitable death, but that of my father, who was then 83, for that would condemn her to a remaining lifetime of loneliness, which she dreaded more than death itself. And this great fear was transmitted to me every time my father developed an ailment, however slight or inconsequential. All I could do was to reassure her that I would be there for her no matter what.

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Minister of the Environment
Government of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0H3

March 6, 1996

Mr. Anthony Marr
Campaign Director
Western Canada Wilderness Committee
20 Water Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 1A4

Dear Mr. Marr:

Thank you for your letter of January 15… regarding the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA)… its capacity to deter this trade with its proclamation this spring.

Under the Act, poachers and smugglers will be liable to penalties of up to $150,000 and 5 years’ imprisonment. Corporations are liable to fines of up to $300,000. The maximum fine can be doubled for a second offence…

Yours sincerely,
Hon. Sergio Marchi
Minister of Environment

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April 4, 1996, Thu.
Ms. Neil Sumner

Dear Mr. Marr:

I have seen you on TV and have read about you in our local newspapers and I want to tell you what a very import job you are doing for bears, and generally, our environment. I was impressed to see you giving talks at schools to try to convince a young generation of Asian and non-Asian Canadians to understand the importance of preservation of our forests, or a single tree in our neighbourhood, and of course, the creatures that live in our forests and countryside. You have a large task and, in my opinion, are going about it the right way to make a difference.

I have despaired to think our bear population would go the way of the tigers and rhinos and other bear species in Asia. Yours is among the most important steps taken in BC that will make a difference. It’s a heavy burden to put upon you, but please keep up the excellent work and find a way to overcome the barriers that have come your way.

Yours sincerely,
N. Sumner

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April 9, 1996, Tue.
Ming Pao Daily News
by Eric Chan
(translated from Chinese)

[New Federal Wildlife Trade Law Soon In Force]

… Earlier this year, Vancouver environmentalist Anthony Marr, of Western Canada Wilderness Committee, wrote the then federal justice minister Alan Rock and the Ministry of the Environment requesting an as-soon-as-possible enactment of WAPPRIITA…

On March 6, the new federal environment minister Sergio Marchi wrote back to Marr, stating that WAPPRIITA will be put in force this spring…

Environmental expert David Ip, who once headed the Chinese community group SUCCESS, considers the new law a new round of assault against traditional Chinese medicine in Canada…

*     *     *

This was hailed as a victory for WCWC’s BET’R campaign, but no time to rest on any laurel. The next step, no mean task, was to make sure that the new law was enforced.


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