Part II - Bear Referendum
Chapter 11 - 2 Greenhorns vs 60 Bullies
June 14, 1996, Friday, mostly sunny
[12:02 @ Annette and Scott Tanner’s in Qualicum]
TGIF - Thank God it’s Friday - if only because it is the day after Thursday. And what about Thursday? It was the night of the dreaded Big Confrontation in Port Alberni, and it lived up to expectations and more.
What transpired was a horrific free for all, the “all” being the 60+ hunters in an audience of about 70, all crammed into a room meant for no more than 30, with just that many chairs. "Standing room only" gets brand new meaning. It was a hot summer night, and the body heat and the red hot verbal exchanges made it resemble an oven, and the oven doors were jammed by hunters. Of the five or six supporters, at least two or three were so intimidated that they slipped away unnoticed, leaving Maureen Sager, my local host, and two or three other women and a gentlemanly doctor to hold the bag.
The hunter group included two or three guide-outfitters and a conservation officer who was overtly chummy with the hunters. About two-thirds were men and one-third were women, the latter attired from T-shirts and jeans to business suits and high heels, but all with blood lust in their eyes, especially as their stares converged unflinchingly at me. No doubt, however subconsciously, they looked upon me and Erica as their collective prey tonight. And when they fired their verbal barrages, they did it in pack form, often when I was in mid-sentence. I estimate that of every ten sentences I attempted in my slideshow presentation, I could finish maybe two, and those were the shortest ones.
Maureen, an active woman in her 60s, did her best to keep order, but was totally ignored, and at times assaulted by such words as, “This guy flies in and out, but you have to live here, lady. So watch your mouth!”
Another jeered, “Not only is this guy from out of town, he is from out of the country, for God’s sake, and he has the gall to barge in here and tell us what we can and can’t do!”
An older man echoed, “All Chinese immigrants should be charged $100,000 for the damage done to the Canadian culture, like what this guy is doing right now!”
About a third thorough my slideshow, I found myself turning off the projector and saying, “Fine. If you want a debate, we’ll have a debate.” Strangely, this put some order into the proceedings, since then they would be interrupting one another if they spoke more than one at a time.
Basically, their message to us, obviously predetermined, was “scrap your campaign, or else”. The milder ones were thoughtful enough to say, “change your campaign to strictly anti-poaching but pro-hunting, and we’ll support you, or else”.
If the men were bad, like punching in the gut, some of the women were worse, like pinching your sensitive zones. One said, “What you’re trying to do is to deprive my son of a great heritage that his forefathers created and God condoned, and his father, and his mother, now enjoy.”
Another said, “If you don’t play the game, honey, you don’t make the rules.”
Through the first hour, Erica sat on the sideline. Finally, she could contain herself no longer, and stood to make a point. Before she could finish her sentence, as was now the norm, another older man shouted, “Young lady, you are not old enough to lecture me.”
I pointed at the “honey” woman, who appeared to be in her mid-thirties, and said, “I’ve been listening to this young lady for the last hour. It’s about time you listen to this young lady,” indicating Erica, “for a change. Go ahead, Erica.” Strangely, the man acquiesced, and stranger still, the “honey” woman gave me a sweet smile.
In contrast to the physical heat which I found hard to tolerate, I found myself handling them in a surprisingly relaxed state, matching wits with them point by point without losing my cool, and in fact enjoying certain moments of this my first major confrontation with a large group of well organized hunters. They maybe good shots through a gun barrel, but are lousy shots through their mouths.
At one point, a hunter said, “Who gives you the authority to do what you’re doing?”
“What do you think of the Chinese tradition of using bear gall bladders for medicine?” I asked back.
“I think that’s obscene.”
“Should it be banned?”
“Damn right! It should be banned, and it is banned, but by the law, not by some freelance environmentalist.”
“I agree with you on this, sir, but I think killing a magnificent creature to hang its head on a wall is equally obscene, and it, too, should be banned, unless, like you, I have a double standard.”
At another point, when one of them was talking about “ethical hunters”, I responded with, “If there are ethical hunters, there must be unethical hunters?”
At another point, I asked them point blank whether they had never deliberately broken any law, never taken anything on the side, never left any kills unreported, never taken more than their permits allowed, never wounded any animal that got away... “If you have never done any of these, raise your hand,” I challenged them. Almost every hand came up, but many after a few unmistakable seconds of hesitation.
It is clear that the hunters, in spite of their oft-repeated claim that they are the original and true conservationists of wildlife, care first and foremost for the perpetration of their blood sport, and whatever conservation effort they may exert is first and foremost so that they will have something to hunt.
The intimidation tactic is evidently orchestrated by the BC Wildlife Federation whose own stated prime goal is “to promote the sport of hunting”, although many came close to admitting that for those who shoot from their 4X4s on logging roads, there is no sport at all.
They view our attack on the bear hunt as an attack on the entire hunting edifice from the top down, since the Grizzly bear is considered the apex predator of BC, and from the foundation up, considering that Grizzly bear hunt is pure and unadulterated trophy hunting. It strikes me as futile to present to them the government’s over-estimation of the Grizzly bear population and under-estimation of the poaching extent. These numbers suit them and they hang on to them as the gospel truth. Their “faith”, like that of the Creationists who ignore all scientific evidence to the contrary, cannot be questioned, serves as the connecting link for their circular argument.
It is clear that it would be futile for us to try to convert them. Our job here is to rally the already converted into a coherent fighting force. But in terms of this evening’s meeting being a work session, it was unproductive and even counter-productive. The few supporters who showed up either disappeared or were too intimidated to sign up, at least in the presence of the hunters. But not all is lost. The plus is that Diane Morrison, a reporter from the local newspaper, was present, and from the readers of her article may emerge a certain number of volunteers. Her presence, to say the least, prevented the hunters from getting out of hand, but they seemed determined to give her something dramatic to report, and I think they did an admirable job in that.
The hunters left the room while we were packing up with the help of our hosts. One of the ladies commended us for being “brave” and another said to me, “Anthony, now I have full confidence that you can talk your way out of any situation.”
Well, debating is one thing. Driving with the pedal to the metal is another. As I was driving off, I noticed a truck in the rear-view mirror. I made one or two random turns and the truck followed suit, staying about half a block behind. At a red light, the truck pulled right up to my rear bumper, with its high beam glaring into my rear view mirror. I looked for a police car but couldn’t find any. I looked for the police station and couldn’t find it. Finally, I took the plunge and got on to the highway due east back to Qualicum. The truck did the same. I could identify it because it had one head light brighter than the other, and one of the parking lights was out. I did not bring it to Erica’s attention in order not to alarm her or show my own alarm. We talked for a bit, then she reclined her seat and soon fell asleep.
I increased my speed, and the truck did likewise. I slowed down to see if it would pass, but it did not, and if it tried, I wouldn’t let it anyway, not wanting to be blocked. I sped up again, and the truck did likewise, and pulled closer to my bumper the farther we left the town behind. Before long, it didn’t even bother to keep up a pretense and began tailgating. I’ve been tailgated a thousand times by highway loonies before, but these weren’t hotheads but cold-blooded killers. I thought about what I should do next.
I tried the cell phone, but we had gone outside of any service area. Only one thing left. I had to out-run it. My car, a 1993 Mazda MX6 Mystere, is low and aero-dynamic and light and nimble, can do 0-60 mph in 7 seconds, which is right up there with the Mercedes and BMWs - in performance if not in price. Best of all, with its sport suspension, it has a .86g lateral-g-force tolerance, whereas that of a truck is less than .70g. This means that my car can take a corner much faster without losing traction or rolling over. The highway was dark and twisty, and cresting and troughing, and hemmed in by thick forest on both sides, which sounds forbidding, but I deemed it advantageous to my car over the truck. So I floored it and took the curves at the limit. The truck, probably with a big V8, could likely catch me on the straights, but on this highway it was left in the dust, or was it in the ditch. I kept this up for miles, until I was sure it had given up the chase, and still I maintained a fair clip until I saw the lights of Qualicum. Erica slept through the whole thing. I kept the chase to myself, even from the Tanners, not wanting to alarm potential volunteers if the news of physical violence got out.
This evening, we are going to Nanaimo to give a presentation at the Brecken United Church, 19:00. The event is arranged by George Gibson of Sierra Club. But we received a fax from Bonita yesterday, about Sierra Club being super-pissed-off due to a PSA having been placed in the Nanaimo Times about Sierra Club sponsoring WCWC’s anti-hunting campaign. Sierra Club has always been a moderate group which tries not to offend anyone on either side. I don’t know who put the PSA in, but George is in doodoos with Sierra Club over it. This is the second time George got into trouble because of us. The first time was when Erica told Diana Angus of Sierra Club, Cowichan chapter, that George had given us a list of Sierra Club members to call to invite to this evening’s Nanaimo event. Diana told Erica that George had violated Sierra Club protocol. I owe George one, no, two.
Thinking of the chase, which could turn deadly, and which could happen again farther down the road, and those incidences where environmentalists actually were killed, I pondered the probability of my returning to Vancouver alive. I asked Raminothna, “If you were my guardian angel, or even God, would you guarantee my safe return?”
Raminothna said, “Whatever will be is meant to be, and whatever meant to be will be, but as for now, let me say this. The atoms on the cutting edge of a blade are the first ones to be worn away, but without them, what purpose do the millions behind them serve?”
Good night, Christopher.
(An alternative outcome)
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 both legal hunting, poaching and conservation officer kills, 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 sub-campaign targeting poachers and traffickers of bear 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 in favour of hunting, 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 that 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 us successful in shutting down bear hunting, it will try to shut down all hunting. Marr said, “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.”...
The Fortunate and The Called Upon
at your service.
Anthony Marr, Founder and President
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC)