By Gabriel Wildgen, Humane Society International/Canada
Canadians take pride in wild animals as symbols of our country’s deep connection to nature. Images of beavers, caribous, loons and polar bears adorn Canadian coins. Canada’s major airports welcome visitors with murals of breathtaking landscapes, complete with magnificent bears, whales and birds. These same visitors might also be shocked, however, to learn how abysmal many of Canada’s wildlife policies are, and that they’re made all the more glaringly apparent during April, when the world celebrates Earth Day.
The first day of April marked the beginning of the spring bear hunt, where hundreds of grizzlies are shot to death annually in British Columbia –with the full support of the provincial government– just so that trophy hunters can hang their heads, paws, and pelts up on a wall and share pictures of their kill on social media. This happens despite the fact that over 90 percent of B.C. residents are opposed to trophy hunting.
Every April, off the east coast of Newfoundland, federally licensed hunters shoot, impale and bludgeon tens of thousands of baby seals who are already facing dire threats to their survival from climate change. This continues despite polls showing that a majority of Canadians want to see the Atlantic commercial seal hunt ended and despite 40 countries worldwide—including the United States, the European Union nations, Russia and China— that prohibit the trade in products of commercial seal hunts or protect their seal populations from commercial hunting.
While April is a particularly dangerous time of year for Canadian wildlife, these kinds of mass, government-backed slaughters of wild animals continue throughout the entire year in Canada.
For instance, rather than implementing urgently-needed habitat restoration and protection measures to mitigate the damage done by resource-extraction industries, provincial governments in provinces such as B.C. and Alberta commission cruel mass culls of wolves in the name of protecting caribou and moose. This is despite plenty of scientific research showing that these culls are usually ineffective, and can often create new problems while making existing ones worse.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Canadian animals – both wild and domestic– are caught in traps designed to strangle, drown, crush or restrain them until they die or until trappers find and kill them.
Perhaps worse off still are the millions of minks, foxes and other wild animals who are farmed for fur in Canada each year, languishing in small wire cages where they cannot engage in their most basic natural behaviours, and suffer from the physical and psychological trauma that results.
Last year, hunting and angling groups successfully blocked a federal bill that would have updated the criminal code, with modest measures to help law enforcement prosecute animal abusers. One of the reasons given was that the provision to make “brutal and vicious” killing of an animal illegal might apply to their own treatment of animals in their leisure time. The fact that these groups thought that these words might apply to their own actions speaks volumes, as does the fact that their influence over the Canadian Parliament is so strong that the bill was ultimately defeated by dozens of votes.
So this Earth Day, by all means, please do commit to common-sense measures to lower your environmental footprint by reducing waste, recycling more, using less energy and eating less meat. But don’t stop there. Get informed about the wildlife issues and take action to support the groups defending wild animals whenever possible. If you’re Canadian, pick up a pen, or better yet your phone, and write or call your representatives in government to tell them that you don’t support wild animal abuse, and neither should they.
It’s time for leaders at all levels of government in Canada to stop siding with the minority of Canadians who would rather kill wild animals than save them. Canadian politicians need to start acting in accordance with Canadian values, and put our public policies back in line with the wildlife-friendly image we project to the world.
Gabriel Wildgen is a campaign manager for Humane Society International/Canada