In our free and democratic British Columbia, we can challenge a personal injustice when we encounter it. If our rights are infringed upon, we can use our laws and democratic system to stop the infringement and restore our rights. Animals have no such protection. We, the people, are their sole protection against abuse, cruelty, exploitation, physical deprivation, and brutalization for entertainment.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Mahatma Gandhi
Trophy hunters have carefully rehearsed arguments in support of their ‘sport’, as do the detractors, but this article will not address the number of bears in BC, or industry lobbying, government complicity, habitat destruction, hunting for meat, killing of the biggest and strongest of the species, the science behind the issuance of kill licences, the higher economic return from ecotourism, or any other perspective. It will focus instead on this mystifying, perceived ‘right’ to kill that we hear about.
Trophy hunters claim they have the right to kill grizzly bears, mountain sheep, bighorn sheep, and other iconic Canadian animals. No such right is bestowed upon anybody. No person has the right to kill for pure enjoyment, or for sport as they like to call it. It is not clear where this right allegedly comes from. Did God give people the right to kill these magnificent animals whose very creation is attributed to the same God? That would be illogical, and how was that right announced? Governments cannot assign a right that is not theirs to give – or sell – and self-assigned rights have no standing at all.
A right protected by law is not necessarily a moral right in the eyes of society. Slavery was a legal right in many jurisdictions, but that did not make it acceptable. It was legal to hunt San Bushmen in southern Africa until 1936, but that did not make it right. The last aboriginal was legally hunted in Australia as late as 1921, but that did not make it moral. Those respective governments of the day were completely out of touch with reality, even back then.
In 2012, the Guide Outfitters Association of BC presented Premier Christy Clark with its ‘President’s Award’ for her government’s pro-hunting stance.
In our troubled world today, people are executed for being an apostate, sentenced to death for blasphemy, or stoned to death for adultery. Heck, some men even have the right to murder their own family members in so-called ‘honour killings’. These actions are all legal and fully sanctioned by the respective governments of those countries, but having a right to do something does not make it morally acceptable. No, you wouldn’t look to governments or their laws for moral guidance.
A legal right counts for nothing if the practice is barbaric and is rejected by the majority in society. In an online survey by Insights West in October 2015, a whopping 91% of British Columbians indicated that they opposed hunting animals for sport. Only 7% in British Columbia were in favour of trophy hunting. Trophy hunters only currently have that legal right because the government of BC still defies the will of the people and continues to permit the killing of iconic species for the pure thrill of the kill. In a democracy, the will of the people invariably prevails, sooner or later, so something will likely change soon – either the law or the government.
Trophy hunting is not about rights, and it’s not about the law. It is a moral issue, and it’s about right and wrong. If 100 people are in a room, and 7 of them get the urge to kill a grizzly bear, they must think of the 91 other people in the room that find the very concept to be utterly repugnant, plus the 2 people polled who were undecided. And they should question why they are so totally out of step with the majority. Any defense that starts with ‘it’s my right’ will invariably infringe upon the rights of others. The majority will likely never understand a trophy hunter’s desire to kill a bear, a lion, or an elephant, just as they will likely never understand what motivates people to shoot children at school, or moviegoers in a cinema.
How can you find any pleasure … in shooting from behind cover at poor creatures, browsing on the edge of a wood, innocent, defenceless, and unsuspecting? Properly considered, it’s pure murder.” Heinrich Himmler (1)
Trophy hunters appear to dismiss or ignore the reality that every person living in BC has the right to observe, enjoy and photograph our grizzly bears in their natural habitat. These are the same bears they want to kill. The 7% believe their right to kill overrides the right of others to appreciate these sentient animals as they go about their circle-of-life business in the delicate ecosystems in which they are bravely trying to survive, in harmony with nature.
Many of us today are resistant to change in our lives, and we hear that “the only constant in life is change”. Well, the world is indeed changing – and rather fast, too – and laws need to change accordingly. You can’t have pleasure without conscience, business without ethics. The trophy-hunting rules no longer fit this world. New rules have to be written. Animals have rights, too, and countries have being writing those rights into their law and constitution for over twenty years.
Most societies have evolved, and practices that were permissible relatively recently are now outlawed, and even scorned by the majority. Despite its faults and dangers, the internet has exposed abominable activities and united good people in opposition to these atrocities, and no cause has gained more momentum and achieved more success than opposition to the cruelty and abuse of animals. Just ask SeaWorld, or Walter Palmer (2), or Clayton Stoner (3).
The world has changed dramatically in a very short period of time. People have a voice now, and social media is their platform. In a few decades from now, Canadian society will gasp incredulously at the notion that people in our era killed animals simply for fun, or because their government allowed them to do so.
1. Heinrich Himmler to his physical therapist/masseur, Felix Kersten. Quoted in, The Kersten Memoirs, 1940-1945, (1957), Felix Kersten.
2. Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer killed the famed Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe this year, after Cecil was lured out of Hwange National Park.
3. Clayton Stoner, an NHL player from BC, is facing criminal charges for hunting and killing Cheeky the grizzly bear out of season and without a proper licence in the Kwatna River estuary on the Central Coast of BC, an area First Nations people had declared off limits to trophy hunting. The crown will argue that Stoner had no right to kill that bear, and he faces five criminal charges for doing so. Cheeky was loved and cherished by the First Nations people in the area, yet Stoner cut Cheeky’s head off, he sliced her paws off, and he left the carcass to rot … having first posed for a photograph holding Cheeky’s decapitated head (Google it). Stoner will be sentenced on Friday this week, but don’t bet on a meaningful punishment.