Feral cats, “gophers,” & Canadian politics of cruelty

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2002:

TORONTO, OTTAWA–Con-vincing Ontario Court Judge Ted Ormston
that their intent was to produce an artistic statement about
slaughtering animals for meat, two men who videotaped themselves as
they slowly tortured a cat to death walked free on April 18.
Anthony Wennekers, 25, was sentenced to the time in jail he
had already served since his June 2001 arrest. Jesse Power, 22,
reportedly the son of two wealthy Montreal artists, drew 90 days in
jail to be served on weekends, plus house arrest and three years on

The Power sentence was arranged to enable him to continue
studies at the Ontario College of Art and Design.
Reported Nancy Carr of Canadian Press, “For 15 minutes the
men and one other, who remains at large, hung a cat by the neck;
slit her throat; stabbed, kicked, and skinned her; plucked out
her eye with a dental tool; and ripped off her ear with pliers.”
The activity commenced after the men ingested jimson weed, a
plant with hallucinatory properties.
“There are worse ways that this cat could have died,”
Ormston told the courtroom. “I find that the cat died a cruel death
at the hands of these men, but I do not find it was the worst
Ormston ruled that the deeds were “misguided” rather than
criminally intended.
Toronto Humane Society spokesperson Amy White disagreed,
pointing out to reporters that Power had already videotaped himself
killing and eating a chicken as an “art” project, worked at a
slaughterhouse, and defleshed carcasses at the Royal Ontario Museum
to help prepare taxidermy exhibits– all demonstrating a macabre
fascination with death and dismemberment.
“Clearly his behavior was escalating,” White said. “We are
taking a huge risk in letting him out–a risk we should not take.”
Hoping for C-15B
Canadian animal advocates hoped that evident public outrage
over the light sentence would help boost the long-stalled federal
bill C-15B to passage, updating the 110-year-old national
anti-cruelty law by increasing the penalties for animal abuse,
providing a felony penalty for repeat offenses, and allowing humane
societies to charge the owners of abused animals for costs incurred
to restore the animals to health.
The idea that animal life should be better respected in
government policy got a boost on April 18 from Guy St. Julien,
Member of Parliament for St. Julien, Nunavik, who apologized to
Inuit leaders in lieu of an official Canadian government apology for
Canadian and Quebec governments extermination campaigns against sled
dogs, 1950-1975.
Explained Jane George of the Nunatsiaq News, “The dogs were
shot ostensibly to control canine diseases such as rabies and
distemper, and also to reduce numbers of loose dogs in fledgling
communities in the Baffin region and in northern Quebec. Until snow
machines became common many years later, hunters with no dog teams
had trouble providing their families with food, and quickly became
dependent upon handouts and government assistance.”
The dog massacres coincided with intensive mineral
exploration in the Far North, and with a series of largely failed
schemes to relocate the Inuit to southern Canada.
St. Julien did not mention C-15B, but Inuit hunters,
trappers, sealers, and whalers have been anxious about the
implications of the bill for their traditional way of life on the one
hand, and on the other have often asked rhetorically why animal
advocates did not campaign on behalf of their dogs as vigorously as
they have against hunting, trapping, sealing, and whaling.
In fact, and not necessarily by coincidence, the dog
massacres were halted at almost exactly the same time that major
international animal protection organizations discovered sealing as
an issue, after about 20 years of sporadic campaigning by concerned
individuals and smaller organizations.

Gopher derby

But C-15B, introduced by Liberal justice minister Anne
McMillan, is bitterly opposed by the Progressive Conservative and
Canadian Alliance Parties. The Liberal Party is dominant in Quebec,
with scattered strength elsewhere, but the Progressive Conservatives
are dominant in the Maritime provinces which practice seal hunting,
and the Canadian Alliance is strong in the west.
Although C-15B includes strong exemptions for cruelties
committed by farmers, Member of Parliament Roy Bailey
(CA-Saskatchewan) on March 20 called it, “unofficially a declared
war on agriculture,” while Nova Scotia MP Gerald Keddy (PC-Nova
Scotia) asserted that it “clearly pits rural Canada against urban
Bailey and fellow Canadian Alliance MPs Rob Anders, Brian
Fitzpatrick, and Voc Toews escalated their opposition, regaling the
House of Commons with anecdotes about shooting, poisoning, and
bludgeoning Richardson’s ground squirrels, after Sinikka Crosland of
Westbank, British Columbia, called for a boycott of tourism to
Sask-atchewan in protest against the Ken Turcot Memorial Gopher
Derby. Crosland is chair of the Committee for Compassionate Living
within Canadian Health Action Professionals.
The gopher derby is sponsored by the Saskatoon Wildlife
Federation, an affiliate of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
Started on April 1, it is to continue until June 23. The winner is
to be the person who submits the most tails of Richardson ground
squirrels and blacktailed prairie dogs (a close relative found in the
same region) to the judges.
The Saskatoon and Canadian Wildlife Federations have no
official funding or governance relationship with the U.S.-based
National Wildlife Federation, but they are closely parallel
organizations. Both distribute the NWF-developed Project Wild
outdoor education kit to schoolrooms and send the NWF magazine
International Wildlife to donors.
The National Wildlife Federation has solicited funds on
behalf of saving prairie dogs since 1998, and has petitioned to have
blacktailed prairie dogs listed as “threatened” under the U.S.
Endangered Species Act. It has not commented on the gopher derby.
The CWF told Crosland on April 18 that “The views expressed
by many Canadians and CWF supporters about the Saskatoon gopher derby
raise issues that are not covered within our existing policy.”
Saskatoon Wildlife Federation business manager Len Jabush
told Darren Bernhardt of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix that he “politely
told Crosland to piss off.”
Saskatchewan SPCA investigations coordinator Dave Long
meanwhile told Sean Pratt of The Western Producer that he received
198 complaints about farmers starving or otherwise neglecting
livestock during the last nine months of 2001, up from 100 during
the last nine months of 2000. Long attributed the increase in
complaints to the effects of a prolonged drought.
Winter drought tends to increase the population of burrowing
species like Richardson’s ground squirrels and prairie dogs because
fewer drown in their dens after spring snowmelt. But the tunneling
activity of ground squirrels and prairie dogs also helps grasslands
to recover quickly from drought, by creating networks of small,
near-the-surface defacto reservoirs. When rain does fall, the
burrowing animals’ many passages convey water underground for safe
storage among the grassroots. Much of the water would otherwise
create flashfloods, cause soil erosion, and then evaporate before
sinking in where most needed.

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