Cat. 3, Activism 3 – BL-40 – The Eve of Battle

Cat. 3, Activism 3 – BL-40 – The Eve of Battle

Ch. 40 –  Eve of Battle

Poaching a bear for its gall bladder and trophy-hunting one for its head and hide are both killing a bear for its body parts. The fact that one is illegal and the other is legal makes no moral sense to me. So, I moved on to give Western style hunting its due share of equal time.

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From my field journal
May 4, 1996, Saturday

I am one month from embarking upon the most challenging journey of my life. I mean this in both the physical and metaphysical senses. There are a total of 75 electoral districts in British Columbia, of which 50 lay outside of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, known also as the Lower Mainland. I am to visit each and every one of these 50 BC-interior electoral districts by car, and at that within an 8-week period, in a Canadian province similar in size to California, Oregon and Washington combined. Most of the highways I’ll be taking will be traversing true wilderness, which is an idyllic way of saying “hunting country”. The “red-necks” inhabiting these areas consider serial-killing wild animals for recreation (thus “Recreational Hunting”, or “for fun” in a child’s lingo) their God-given right and the highest and most sacrosanct form of entertainment. And I will be wading into the thick of them, stepping on every toe in my path. Good luck, Anthony!

I won’t deny the fear factor. At best, I will be harassed from time to time, guaranteed. At worst, I could lose my life and that of my assistant – 25 year-old Denise Erikson.

The idea of this anti-hunting expedition germinated in my mind less than two months ago. On April 11, to be exact, in a media conference hosted by the British Columbia provincial government at the Vancouver Public Aquarium, Environment Minister Moe Sihota announced a set of changes in the so-called “Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy”. Joe Foy and I went to attend the conference with high expectations based on the result of the 1995 Angus Reed poll, commissioned by Bear Watch, where over 80% of the respondents said they would support a ban on bear hunting in the province. The results of this survey we have transmitted directly to the BC government, as well as to all major media outlets. Should the minister be listening, and wish to abide by the wish of the vast majority, he would have banned at least the Grizzly bear hunt right there and then.

As it turned out, in this regard at least, the announcement was a great disappointment. Not only was bear hunting still condoned by the BC government, it continued to be actively promoted. The nice-sounding term “limited entry hunt” would fool the uninformed public, but it won’t reduce the number of bears killed; instead, it might actually increase it. By “limited”, what it means is to limit the lottery to hunters only, thus preventing non-hunters and anti-hunters from purchasing hunting licenses and permits intended not to be used.

After the minister’s presentation and Q&A, the media converged upon Joe and me for comment, during which Joe used a phrase that stuck in my mind – “barbaric practice” – to describe the “sport” of trophy hunting. I’m glad he came up with it. When a person of Chinese lineage uses the word “barbaric”, it could raise eyebrows on Caucasian faces. But the word needs to be said, because it is so dead on.

Well, if indirect democracy doesn’t work, let’s try direct democracy. Given the 80% anti-bear-hunting poll’s vast majority, if we could put the hunt on a public referendum vote, we’d have an excellent chance of winning. I then looked into provincial legislation and found the very obscure [Recall and Initiative Act], which does provide for a referendum vote should certain initial requirements be met. I took the idea to Paul George, Adriane Carr and Joe Foy – WCWC’s Executive Team.

WCWC personnel in 1996: back row from left: Joe Foy, Paul George, Adriane Carr, Tanya, Brian Conner, Sue Fox, Anthony Marr; front row: Tim Murphy (first left), Bonita Charet (3rd left), Mona Lisa (4th left), Kerry Dawson (6th left)

The first step according to the Act, I explained, was to perform an Initiative Petition, which requires Certified Signatures from at least 10% of the registered voters in each and every one of the 75 electoral districts within the province, without a single exception, and all have to be collected within an agreed-upon 90-day period by Registered Volunteer Canvassers specific to that electoral district. I stressed that if we succeed in 74 electoral districts and fail in only one, the entire petition fails. Only succeeding in this petition could the referendum vote proceed. To promote the principle and idea of the project, recruit volunteers, organize the petition, and especially generate local media, using only phone calls, faxes and emails would not be enough. Someone would have to visit each and every one of the 75 electoral districts throughout the province, in person, to liaise with local groups, to give presentations to the public and to conduct media events. I proposed to do it myself.

Not that I am unaware of the risk in the back of my mind. In fact, the risk was the first thing that entered my head, but it was temporarily suppressed, and I spoke with all the confidence at my disposal. Only after the proposal had been accepted by E-Team a few days later did it hit me with full force. No one has done this before, so no one to turn to for advice, and no case-precedent to follow. I will have to improvise and learn as I go, and necessarily will be making errors, as in trial-and-error. Since no one I know of have ever pitted himself or herself in a big, open, organized and confrontational manner against the entire hunting establishment, its reaction is uncertain, although the chance of physical violence cannot be ruled out. After all, these are people to whom serial killing of wild animals is a time honoured tradition, a supreme pleasure and a life-long addiction.

This I’m willing to face, but what about Denise? Environmentalists had been hurt and even killed by the opposition before. Could I take on the responsibility of her safety?

So one day I took her aside and asked if she wanted to withdraw. I went as far as to say that I would prefer that she did, for the sake of safety and simplicity, which she flatly refused. She is a head strong, enthusiastic, energetic, if somewhat insubordinate woman. She first gained my attention by being a volunteer for my BET’R Campaign, and a good one. When the expedition was decided upon, and the need of an assistant for me announced, she applied and, at my urging, E-Team accepted her for the job, though apparently with misgivings.

She approached the danger aspect of the expedition with an almost cavalier calm, to the point where I began to think that she was making light of the whole situation. But when we finally discussed it, she revealed a deeper layer of herself, where the situation has been analysed and understood, the fear is present but well managed. She said that she could take care of herself. I respect that, those I know that the buck stops on my desk.

I restressed that safety is entirely up to our own resources and wit. WCWC can’t do it for us. And she accepted that too.

Another time, Denise added that she fears more for my safety than her own, on account of my ethnicity and my leadership position. The concern is real, considering the presence of US-implanted White Supremacist groups en route, who would most likely also be hunters. I countered with the factor of her gender and she grew quiet.

With each passing day, my apprehension becomes more acute. At times, in the middle of the night, frightening scenarios would play themselves out in my mind, mostly gleaned from Hollywood, but seemingly with lives of their own. None of them I mentioned to Denise. If she had her demons of her own to fight, she does it alone. At work, she has already set up meetings and presentations in the Gulf Islands region offshore from Vancouver – the first leg of my itinerary. Vancouver Island alone includes the provincial capital of Victoria, and major cities like Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Comox, Courtenay, Campbell River, and satellite islands including Cortes, Salt Spring, Pender, Denman and Hornby. We worked right through the weekends, including the long weekend. Even last night, at 1:30 a.m., I was coaching her on the phone from home to work with Excel, when she was still in the office, on her own, which in that part of the city took some nerve in itself, especially when she leaves. Of all her attributes, what impressed me most is not her seeming lack of fear, but her steadfastness in the face of it.

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May 7, 1996, Tue.
The Vancouver Sun
by Nicholas Read

Help our Grizzlies; stop hunting them

Moe Sihota, the provincial environment minister, has taken steps toward protecting Grizzly bears. No one can deny that. He’s announced a new Grizzly bear reserve in Tweedsmuir Park, increased fines for poachers, banned Grizzly hunting in the Okanagan and Southern Selkirks, and established a limited-entry hunting season for Grizzlies.

There is also no disputing that Grizzlies need protection. There are only 4,000-13,000 left in the province – estimates vary according to source – and unless serious steps are taken to ensure that they survive, they won’t.

What is at issue, however, is whether Sihota has done enough.

According to the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, he hasn’t. WCWC campaigner Anthony Marr says the maximum poaching penalty of $25,000, though higher than the previous $10,000, is still merely “a slap on the wrist”, and the 103 hectare Tweedsmuir reserve, while welcome, isn’t anywhere near what Grizzlies need to exist considering their huge range.

The WCWC also says that all sport hunting should be abolished.

That certainly would be the easiest, and arguably least contentious, move the government could make. An Angus Reed poll conducted last year said 78% of British Columbians believe trophy hunting should be outlawed.

That would affect Grizzlies directly, says BC Wildlife Branch chief Ray Demarchi, because Grizzly meat is not fit to eat, meaning the only reason hunters have to kill a Grizzly is for its head, hide and claws.

Yet, Grizzly hunting continues in part because officials like Demarchi, hunters themselves, wish it. He is a third-generation hunter whose sons have followed his lead. So you have to take that into account when he explains why Grizzly hunting is permitted.

First: There is a “recreational demand” for it, he says. So people simply like killing bears. Demarchi can’t say why – hunting’s allure is hard to define – but it’s there. As proof, he says 400 BC residents and 1,200 non-residents (mostly Americans) seek permits to kill a Grizzly each year. About 350 to 400 bears are actually slaughtered legally.

Second: Grizzly hunting gives employment to guide-outfitters and hunting supply stores, Demarchi says.

Third: Hunting makes bears more wary of humans and therefore less likely to invade urban areas where they could be shot as nuisance animals, he believes. However, he concedes there is no scientific evidence for this.

His points are in direct contrast to a ground-breaking, 10-year study of Grizzlies completed in 1992 by biologist Robert Wielgus who concluded that trophy hunting can have a severely deleterious effect on Grizzly populations.

Because government regulations forbid the killing of female bears with cubs, most hunted Grizzlies are large males. Conventional government wisdom says by killing large males there will be more food available for mother bears and cubs.

But Wielgus’s research says this isn’t so. He said if the head male of a harem of three females is killed, the females will become vulnerable to young male bears who will attempt to establish their own harem by killing the dead male’s cubs and forcing the females into heat again.

Thus, to safeguard their cubs, the females may be forced to move into food-poor areas where the health of their cubs may suffer. And this, combined with trophy hunting, can result in entire populations being threatened.

Nevertheless, the government has chosen to disregard Wielgus’s research and rely instead on the opinions of the hunting fraternity within the Wildlife Branch. In fact, all questions to Sihota’s office about hunting are referred directly to the Branch.
In announcing his initiatives, Sihota said, “In my opinion, the Grizzly is an icon of what BC is about… one of the most magnificent creatures that has ever roamed the planet.”

Yet sport hunting of this magnificent creature continues, despite what most British Columbians would prefer. And the elected officials who claim to want to save the bear refuse to say why killing it for kicks is still tolerated.

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May 8, 1996, Wed.
Ming Pao Daily News, p. A1, top article
by Eric Chan
(translated from Chinese)

Chinese Canadian seeking province-wide anti-bear-hunting referendum

Chinese Canadian environmentalist Anthony Marr is starting an Initiative Petition drive as a first step towards a subsequent province-wide referendum to ban sport/trophy/recreational hunting of BC’s Grizzly bear and the Black bear. If the petition goes to referendum, it would become the second provincial referendum in Canadian history after the recent Quebec referendum, and the first ever generated by the general public instead of government.

According to BC’s new Recall and Initiative Act (1995), any individual or organization can start a referendum. The procedure is first to conduct an “Initiative Petition” in all the 75 electoral districts of the province. Within a designated 90-day period, the “proponent” must obtain signatures from at least 10% of the registered voters of each and every electoral district without exception. This would amount to approximately 220,000 signatures in total throughout the province. If subsequently it goes to referendum, or “Initiative Vote”, a 50%+ support vote from all BC’s registered voters in total, and a 50%+ support vote from at least two-thirds of the 75 electoral districts, would be required to win.

Anthony Marr, Western Canada Wilderness Committee’s leader of the BET”R (bear, elephant, tiger and rhino) campaign, hopes to employ this provision to ban the currently legal recreational/trophy hunting of both the Grizzly and Black bears.

Two previous events gave Marr confidence in the viability of the project. The first is that WCWC, in a previous petition for the protection of Clayoquot Sound, obtained 130,000 signatures from 64 electoral districts. The second is an Angus Reed poll commissioned by the environmental group Bear Watch in 1995, where 91% of those polled opposed the hunting of the Black bear when the purpose is to obtain only the head and hide (trophy) of the animal, and 78% supported the outright banning of bear hunting.

Marr is currently preparing for an 8-week, 12,000 km province-wide road tour to visit all of the 50 or so electoral districts in BC outside of the Great Vancouver region. His proposed itinerary contains meetings with a broad range of environmental and animal advocacy groups, most of which will take on the responsibility to collect signatures in their own electoral districts. He plans to start the tour in early June to network with these groups, to organize the petition, and to inform the public via media. The 90-day petition period has been slated for September to December.

Marr says that as a result of a recent CBC newscast on the project, he has already received phone calls from various parts of the province where people offered local help and lodging. He calculates that if the roar tour is entirely self-funded by WCWC, it would cost upwards of $50,000, but with help from various groups, it could be as low as $10,000. . .

Marr understands that even to satisfy the requirements of this first petition stage would not be easy. Several such efforts on other issues have been tried in BC since last summer, all failed. But even if this project, too, fails, the initiative petition process would generate much media coverage and public awareness, as well as put pressure to bear on the government.

Marr, as well as WCWC campaign director Joe Foy, consider killing bears for pleasure and ego a “barbaric practice”.

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May 16, 1996, Thu.
The Vancouver Province
by Charlie Anderson

Canvassers out to stop bear hunts

The Western Canada Wilderness Committee wants to put a shot gun to the head of bear trophy-hunting in BC.

And its weapon of choice is the new Recall and Initiative Act that was originally introduced to allow BC voters to get rid of unpopular politicians…

Anthony Marr of WCWC said the move is necessary to help maintain bear populations in the face of sky-rocketing poaching which, by definition, is out of control…

“It is going to require a massive effort, and we are counting on friends in other environmental groups to help out,” said Marr, who will begin his province-wide road-tour to propagate the message in June.

But Doug Walker of the BC Wildlife Federation slammed the move, which he says will penalize legitimate hunters of game.

“Our 35,000 members are people who like to hunt and fish and backpack and go out to the outdoors. They have a valued respect for the wildlife,” said Walker.
“These fringe groups like to come along and marginalize the fact that people hunt to put food on the table. They are not out there just for some blood sport. They are out there because this is part of something they have done for generations and generations.”

Marr asks Walker when was the last time a Grizzly bear hunter served Grizzly bear stake to his family.


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June 5, 1996, Wed.
The Westerly News
Tofino, BC

[Referendum road tour aims to stop bear hunting]

BC’s Black and Grizzly bear populations are currently threatened in four ways, according to the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, whose bear campaigner Anthony Marr will be visiting Tofino this week as part of his bear referendum road tour. . . .

Marr says the skyrocketing poaching for body parts, recreational/trophy hunting, “nuisance bear” kills by conservation officers, and destruction of habitat, all threaten the bear population.

“If something is not done now, the bears in BC will go the same way as the elephant, tiger and rhino – on the steep path towards extinction. The Bear Referendum is meant to prevent this downward spiral to oblivion.”

Anthony Marr will be at the Wickaninnish Elementary School in Tofino on Friday, June 7 at 7 p.m. to give a slideshow presentation on bear conservation and on the referendum project. . .


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