Cat. 3, Activism 4 – BL-41 – On My War Path

Cat. 3, Activism 4 – BL-41 – On My War Path

Ch. 41 –  On My War Path

June 6, 1995, Thursday

Finally, our anti-hunting “Bear Referendum” road tour is underway. Right off the bat, I started with the wrong foot forward. To begin with, I succumbed to the flu four days ago. Yesterday I was running 102F. Even now, I am feeling weak, when, even if I were feeling strong, the task at hand and ahead is daunting enough.

Now that the tour has begun, I will record it faithfully for posterity, so that our children’s children will know what kind of a battle we fought for them.

Yesterday started with a highly successful media conference at the Terrace Room of the Waterfront Hotel, media present including BCTV, CBC TV, CTV, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Province, Vancouver Courier, CKNW (AM 980), CKWX (AM 1130), CKST (AM 1410), radio AM 1320 (Chinese), radio AM 1470 (Chinese), Sing Tao Daily News (Chinese), Ming Pao Daily News (Chinese), etc. About a dozen mics in front of us, “us” being, from left to right (facing the audience of about 30) and in sequence of speaking: Paul George, Greg McDade (head of Sierra Legal Defence Fund), David Boyd (attorney at SLDF) and myself. All four of us were dressed in suit and tie – perhaps standard attire for the SLDF lawyers, but definitely unusual for WCWC campaigners, and downright unheard of for Paul George.

The phrase that stuck in my head was McDade’s “magnificent quest” referring to the “Bear Referendum” campaign, which framed it magnificently.

After the conference, we all went back to WCWC for final arrangements, then off I drove in my 1993 silver Mazda MX6, with Denise Erikson in the passenger seat, to Tsawwassen to catch the 1 o’clock ferry to the mid-Vancouver-Island city of Nanaimo, crossing time 1 hour 45 minutes, then drive two hours to the north-Island city of Campbell River for our first presentation-meeting slated for 19:00 (7 pm) at the Haig Brown House.

We arrived at Tsawwassen in what we thought to be good time – 12:50 – but were told by the woman at the ticket booth that the ferry had left five minutes before, and the next one wouldn’t leave till 15:15, which would make us late for Campbell River for some two hours. Both of us spontaneously swore up a storm. I decided to switch line-up to catch the 1 pm ferry to the provincial capital of Victoria at the southern tip of Vancouver Island instead – driving time to Campbell River from Victoria about four hours. But by loading time, we were the third car to be cut off, and the 2 pm Victoria ferry was delayed till 2:30. So we switched back to the Nanaimo line-up. By the time we finally arrived at Campbell River, it was 8:30, a full hour and a half late.

To slow down things even more, since we didn’t know where the Haig Brown House was, we had first to meet a Bear Watch woman called Shari Bondi at the Marina Motel along the highway. My car was so stuffed-to-the-gill that Denise had to get out so Shari could take the passenger seat to guide me to the meeting place, while Denise and Shari’s daughter Serena took a cab from the motel. By the time we entered the room, it was past 9 pm.

Of course we had informed head office about all these while still on the road, and HO had called the event organizers about us being late, and of course the organizers had inform the hunters present of it, and of course the hunters sneered when we entered the room. One said above an audible whisper, “Chicken.”  Good thing I wasn’t Marty McFly.

The meeting, by invitation only as organized by our host Wayne Gray, was small – about a dozen – but each was a key representative of a local group, including one Keith Urchuk of the BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF) which, despite its nice-sounding name, was the largest hunting group in the province, boasting a paid membership of 35,000, dwarfing WCWC’s 28,000 by thousands of members. As soon as I entered the room, Urchuk came to within inches of my face and said, “I just saw you on the 6 o’clock news. The price on your head just went up ten thousand dollars.” He delivered the line dead pan, though hopefully tongue-in-cheek. Either way, it was meant to intimidate.

I heard myself replying, “Just ten grand? Damn! I’m disappointed.”

Another man whose name I did not catch shouted across the room, “Hey! You kept me waiting for two hours! What’s your excuse?”

I smiled and said, “No. I deliberately missed the ferry to test your patience. You pass, barely.”

Urchuk remained the leader of his pack and was disruptive and confrontational throughout my presentation, saying at one point that we had no right to threaten his RIGHT to hunt. In a subsequent comment, he expanded “right to hunt” to an even more passionate “way of life”.

Some of the others were representatives of local animal advocacy and environmental groups. A quick head-count showed eleven persons in support and four opposed, which gave me an on-the-spot boost in confidence regarding the Anti-vs-Hunter ratio for the rest of the trip, especially given that Campbell River is a northern city. I hope it holds. (*How wrong I was.)

Since the presentation started almost two hours late, I pretty well rushed through my untried slideshow presentation, followed by a Q&A during which Urchuk and the other three hunters heckled me some more.

One formidable older gentleman by the name of Noel Lax stood up and orated in theatrical fashion, “During the war people had to dismantle their iron gates and donate their metal bed frames so that the country could have the steel needed to manufacture weapons against the Nazis. Today, in our war to protect threatened wildlife, we have to make some sacrifices, including laying down our weapons for threatened species.”

“If there is a war going on now, this is it,” said a hunter. “It is a war against our entire tradition. And the enemy is led by,” pointing his index finger straight at me, “this man.”. He could have looked like a prosecutor, if not for that his hand was shaped like a pistol, with thumb straight up.

The reporter from the local newspaper scribbled furiously throughout.

In the end, Denise signed up seven volunteers. By signing up, the obligation is to register with Elections BC as a “Registered Volunteer Canvasser”, then collect as many certified signatures as they can within the three week period yet to be set, from the electoral district(s) where they themselves will be registered.

After the meeting, event co-organizer Wayne Gray led us back to his house where we were billeted for the night, and where his lovely wife Anita made us a late snack. Now, 8 a.m. the morning after, as I’m writing this, Wayne is making us breakfast. If we’re treat like this every day by our hosts along the way, we could easily be spoiled.

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Due to the shortage of space in this book, I will not get into as much detail in the campaign as I would like to. I am and will be skipping days’ worth of field journal entries and the vast majority of newspaper articles. Those interested in this campaign please read my book [ANTI-HUNTER – Battle of the Century]. What I will do here is to include a few high points and some of the most memorable moments.

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June 14, 1996, Fri.
Alberni Valley Times
by Diane Morrison

Bear hunters confront bare-faced petition to put them into permanent hibernation

Bears, whether Black, Brown, Grizzly or Polar, are not endangered species in North America. Anthony Marr wants to keep it that way.

The campaigner for Western Canada Wilderness Committee was in Port Alberni Thursday night with his effort to ban sport and trophy hunting of Grizzly and Black bears.

It was a very hard sell to the audience of about 70 dominated by hunters and hunting guides that packed into a into small, hot room at the Friendship Centre, made even hotter by the temper flaring up from wall to wall.

The hunters say they are the endangered species. They wanted the distinction between legal hunting and poaching to be clearly recognized.

“Go ask the bears, to see if they can,” said Marr. He also said that some hunters and guides make this is impossible, because they are themselves poachers.

Marr believes that, with legal hunting, poaching and “problem bear” kills (by conservation officers), about 8% of the Grizzly bear population and more than 10% of the Black bear population are being killed each year. He said the province’s Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy clearly states that the species can sustain no more than a 4% annual mortality before going into decline, and even this, according to Marr, is too high.

Members of the audience disputed Marr’s numbers saying that, on Vancouver Island at least, the Black bear population has been increasing by 15% for the last 10 years. Marr countered that the Black bear populations on southern Vancouver Island, and some in Mid-Island, have been decimated in various locales, citing the Cowichan Lake area as an example, and challenged the hunters to produce written documentation to support their claim, which they did not.

A number of people asked why Marr’s main thrust was to shut down legal hunting when the problem is poaching. Marr replied that both in combination is the problem, and that he has another campaign targeting poachers and traffickers of endangered species parts. A Chinese Canadian, Marr has taken on both Canadian hunters and the Chinese demand for the body parts of these animals.

After about an hour of cross firing, WCWC campaign assistant Erica Denison finally stood up and said that until poaching can be brought under control, they want to buy time for the bears to recover.

One of the hunters pointed at her and said, “Young lady, you are not old enough to teach us anything. Sit down!” Marr pointed at a middle-aged woman in the audience who had been quite outspoken, saying, “I’ve been listening to this young lady for the last hour. Erica, please continue.”

Marr needs to get hunters on his side, the woman said, not slam them, because hunters also want to stop poaching.

Some audience members said it is organizations such as WCWC advertising the fact that bear parts are worth so much on the black market that is increasing poaching. Marr scoffed at this as an “ostrich attitude”.

They objected to being told that they can’t legally hunt bears, but bears that get into garbage and smash bee hives can be killed for being a nuisance. Marr said, “The bears you kill are not nuisance bears, and killing nuisance bears is not your job.”

When shown a picture of a bear shut in a small cage with a tube leading out from its gall bladder to extract bile, one man said that countries that treat animals like that are not democratic and so they have no conscience. Marr countered that lots of capitalists have no conscience either.

Another man was convinced that if WCWC is successful in shutting down bear hunting, it will try to shut down all hunting. Marr said, “You are right in what I want, but I will just say that if another hunted species becomes threatened or endangered, I would champion its cause as well.”

Back to poaching, Marr said that when an animal such as tigers and rhinos is declared endangered, the demand and price, and so the poaching, skyrocket, hastening its slide into oblivion. “It is a very vicious cycle, and the purpose of this campaign is to try to keep our own bears out of it.” . . .

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Nanaimo Times
by Kim Goldberg

Easy to bag – Let’s vote on bear hunting

… In the biggest and boldest campaign of its ecophilic history, the Western Canada Wilderness Committee has launched a referendum initiative which, if successful, could ban all sport and trophy hunting of bears in BC…

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June 18, 1996, Tuesday
The Victoria Times Colonist
by Malcolm Curtis

Crusader wants everyone to vote on the future of bear-hunting

BC voters will have a chance to vote in a referendum to ban bear hunting, if an environmental crusader has his way.

Anthony Marr, of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, is leading a team that hopes to collect enough signatures to force a public vote. . . .

“The rules are so stacked against the Proponent that the playing field is almost vertical, but we’re used to uphill battles, and are quite confident we can do it,” Marr said Monday.

“It’s going to be difficult up north and in places like the Chilcotin, but in the southern regions we see no problem.” . . .

Marr will give a presentation at the University of Victoria on Thursday night at the Law Building, main auditorium, starting at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

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June 20, 1998, Thurs.
The Victoria Times Colonist
by Malcolm Curtis

Bear hunters shoot back

Bear hunters are in a growlly mood over an environmental group’s bid to force a public vote on their sport.

The “Bear Referendum” campaign of Western Canada Wilderness Committee, led by Anthony Marr, is gathering support for a province-wide referendum to ban bear hunting and raise penalties against poachers of bears and traffickers of bear parts.

But advocates of the sport say that Marr is barking up the wrong tree with his facts about bear populations at risk.

“That’s just garbage,” Saanich hunter Terry Anderson said Wednesday, responding to a Times Colonist report about Marr’s referendum drive.

“Your newspaper did not do justice to the cause of ethical hunters,” he said. “The WCWC have done some great things, but I don’t believe that fingering hunters as part of the problem is right.”

Bruce Lloyd, a hunter and pulp mill worker from Port Alice, said he was concerned by what he called “the misinformation campaign”.

While environmentalists say bears are threatened, the level of hunting has decreased while the bear population has risen, he said.

“I can tell you we’re overrun with bears here,” said Lloyd. “I get a bear in my yard at least five time a year.”

However, the hunting fraternity is worried that an “uninformed public” may be swayed to support a bear hunting ban.

Growing concerns have been raised about a booming trade in bear parts for Asian markets, where they are sold for medicinal and food use.

But Dale Drown, general manager of the Hunting Guide-Outfitter’s Association of BC, said a ban on hunting won’t end poaching and trade in bear parts.

Registered hunters serve as the “eyes and ears” of the conservation service and can actually help crack down on illegal activity, said Drown.

Hunting is also widely recognized as a wildlife management tool that helps bear populations from exploding to the point where they cause problems, he said.

In the past year, provincial conservation officers responded to 7,600 complaints about nuisance bears. In response, officers shot about 800 bears, a situation that is bound to increase if the bear population gets out of hand, Drown said.

The WCWC is “playing fast and loose” with figures that suggest bears are threatened, he said, adding that government records suggest populations have steadily increased since the 1970s.

The Environment Ministry’s wildlife management branch has not decided yet whether to take a position on the proposed referendum.

But Bill Munro, deputy branch director, agreed that bear populations appear healthy.

There are 120,000 to 160,000 Black bears and about 10,000 Grizzlies in BC, said Munro, who hunts himself, though not for bears.

Marr, meanwhile, is holding a meeting at U.Vic.’s Begbie Building, Room 159, to promote his campaign.

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June 22, 1996, Sat.
The Parksville/Qualicum News
by Chris Beacom

Crusade to end bear hunting hits Qualicum Beach]The system. Difficult to change and more frustrating even to try. Anthony Marr is finding out first-hand how far the provincial government needs to be pushed before change ensues. Marr is a campaigner for the Vancouver-based Western Canada Wilderness Committee, an organization focused on protecting wilderness and the environment. Marr and assistant Denise Erikson are on a cross-province road tour, visiting every town in British Columbia to gain support to ban Grizzly and Black bear hunting. . . .

At the meeting the Chinese-born Marr was questioned by hunters for not cracking down on illegal Asian poaching instead of focusing on legal hunting. Marr replied, “I’ve raised so much hell in Chinatown I’ve become a pariah to some members of the Chinese community. When I challenge the Chinese tradition of killing bears for medicine, you guys back me, but when I challenge the European tradition of killing bears for entertainment and trophy, you oppose me. Where is your sense of objectivity and fair play? Or do you have a double standard?”

Erikson expects a string of battles along the road tour, especially in towns like Williams Lake where bear hunting could be considered an important part of the culture.

“They already know we’re coming,” said Erikson. “They had a front-page headline saying, ‘bear hunting under attack’, and a hunter there just got killed by a bear. So it could be tough.” . . .


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