BOOKS: Blood Relations
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2001:
Blood Relations: Animals, Humans, and Politics by Charlotte Montgomery
Between The Lines (720 Bathurst St., Suite #404, Toronto, Ontario,
Canada M58 2R4), 2001. 337 pages, paperback. $26.95.
Charlotte Montgomery admits that Blood Relations is not a
complete portrait of the animal rights movement in Canada.
“What I could do,” she writes, “was offer a representative
sample, a selection of people and issues that would give the gist of
the animal movement. Think of it as somewhere to start. The
activists who once rescued living turkey chicks from a garbage bag
full of dead bodies are not here. Nor is Floyd the lonely monkey,
who doesn’t know humans are trying to help him, nor a special green
parrot, both of whom I met during my research and will remember.
Nor are the people who defend whales or give donkeys and greyhounds a
home–or a lot of issues and people who arguably should be.
“I ended up spending more time on the outlaw side of the
animal movement than originally planned,” Montgomery confesses. “My
decision may appall some of the law-abiding activists who believe
they struggle daily to stay free of the bad image associated with the
‘illegals.’ But I came to the conclusion that the illegal activities
were not the outrageous, senseless activities of dangerous misfits.
Instead, they seem to me an inevitable part of a political movement
that has been greeted too often with scorn and exclusion.”
This rhetoric should sound familiar to students of the U.S.
civil rights movement, as it closely parallels the fascination of
the American left 30 years ago with the now scarcely remembered Black
Panther Party. Essentially an extortion racket, formed in prison by
career thugs using borrowed but only faintly understood lefty
rhetoric as cover, the Black Panthers for a few years raised huge
sums from guilt-wracked white liberals and terrorized inner city
shopkeepers, gave then-FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover the pretext he
needed to extensively infiltrate the anti-Vietnam War and civil
rights movements, and– between shoot-outs with both police and each
other–eventually self-destructed. The surviving leaders moved on to
other sordid enterprises, most memorably the effort of one cofounder
to popularize pants designed to make the wearer’s penis look larger.
But Montgomery is aware of at least some limitations of the
“There is nothing like the hint of being shut out to make
leftists suspicious that the powerful are up to their usual tricks,”
she notes. “But when it comes to animals, the political left, with
a few exceptions, does not force these issues onto the public stage
as matters of equality and social justice.”
Montgomery also sees the extent to which violent activism
serves the establishment interests that it purports to attack.
“Ordinary people,” she notes, “considering how the system
works, might conclude that there is something beyond the fear of
terrorists at work in the refusal of the research community to be
open. The real goal…is to bolster the mythology that those who
pursue animal issues, whether they are animal rights or animal
welfare advocates, are too extreme to be given credence. This
eliminates the necessity of full public scrutiny, of possible public
criticism of what is being done to animals, and, as a result,
avoids inconvenient government interference.”
Still, her interest and sympathy seems to be mainly with
convicted laboratory raiders and arsonists David Barbarash and Darren
Thurston, and convicted mink releasers Hilma Ruby and Gary
Yourofsky. The latter are Americans, not Canadians, and their only
known activity in Canada was an ill-planned fiasco leading to six
arrests before the sun rose the next morning. Barbarash and
Thurston, meanwhile, contributed between arrests to the demise of
the British Columbia activist group Bear Watch, while accomplishing
almost nothing in a dozen years that could reasonably be called a
gain for animals.
Montgomery looks briefly at the continuing failure of the
Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and other mainstream groups
to update the century-old Canadian national anti-cruelty law.
Indeed, Canada does not even have legislation to protect endangered
species yet–and the political structure of Canada seems to ensure
that sealers, hunters, fishers, meat producers, the fur trade,
and biomedical researchers will continue to enjoy grossly
disproportionate influence until and unless their markets collapse
and stay flat for at least a generation.
“There are concerns that law-abiding activists try to raise
publicly, real moral and ethical issues that go unaddressed on the
political agenda even while decisions affecting them are made,”
Montgomery concludes. “Public acknowledgement that the animal
movement exists is found mainly in pockets of special interest that
focus more on reasons to reject the movement than on responding to
its message. There is no reason to suppose that people who champion
issues involving animals will fade away if they are ignored. After
all, they have been ignored for years.
“What is more likely,” she predicts, “is that both the
legal and illegal sides will grow. If the political agenda cannot
finally make room for them,” she believes, “the rationale of the
law-abiding activists for withholding at least moral support from the
outlaws may slowly crumble.”
After the world watched the World Trade Center crumble
because proponents of another cause believed frustration warranted
bombings and arson, the perils of giving support to terrorism,
“moral” or otherwise, should be obvious. Activism on behalf of
animals is especially compromised by violent tactics, because the
whole moral foundation of the cause is the idea that animals, too,
deserve the same rights to freedom from violence and fear that we
supposedly give to fellow humans.
There are major political and economic obstacles in Canada to
establishing gains for animals in public opinion in the form of gains
in law. But the balance of political power in Canada, among three
major parties, is often so tenuous that organized animal advocates
could tip the whole balance by deciding the outcome of only a handful
of close races in a Parliamentary election. An elected independent
with a secure seat and pro-animal beliefs could parlay her position
into an influential cabinet post, much as Maneka Gandhi has
repeatedly done in India.
Canadian animal advocates must continue to make gains in
public opinion, as they mostly have for decades, and must learn to
turn those gains into votes. Effective vote-seeking has barely begun
in the U.S., and has not been tried at all north of the border.