THE FIRST GREAT CONFRONTATION
by Anthony Marr
June 14, 1996, Friday, mostly sunny
[12:02 @ Annette and Scott Tanner’s residence in Qualicum]
The night of the dreaded Big Confrontation in Port Alberni has come to pass, and it lived up to expectations and more. And it is only one day in the first week of the province-wide, 8-week, 12,000-km, 45-city Ban-Bear-Hunting-in-BC Referendum Initiative road tour. Just a few days ago, in the town hall meeting in Campbell River, a hunter pointed at my nose and said, “I saw you on TV this morning. The price on your head just went up $10,000.”
Before leaving the Tanner’s to drive to Port Alberni yesterday afternoon, I asked (my assistant) Erica one last time if she would much rather stay behind than come with me. This is an Option 3 situation – an overt meeting in hostile territory. The meeting is well pre-publicized in the Alberni Times, and heavy hunter turn-out is more than likely. I did not want to have to worry about her safety as well as mine. She said a firm “No” without hesitation, one even firmer than those before. I respect her for that.
What transpired in Port Alberni was a horrific free for all, the “all” being the 65 hunters in an audience of about 70, all crammed into a room meant for no more than 30, equipped with just that many chairs. Standing room only, with wall-to-wall hunters. It was thirty degrees Celsius outside, and ten degrees warmer in the room sweltering with body heat and smelling of sweat, beginning with mine. The red hot verbal exchange only added fuel to the fire inside the oven, with both oven doors jammed solid with hunters We couldn’t escape if we wanted to. Of the five or six supporters, at least two or three were so intimidated that they slipped away unnoticed, leaving my local host Maureen Sager and two or three other women to hold the bag.
The hunter group included two or three local hunting-guide-outfitters and a conservation officer who was openly 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 hints of blood lust in their eyes, especially as they unflinchingly stared in my direction. No doubt, however subconsciously, they were feeling that trembling excitement as they sighted their quarry through their rifle-scopes. Was there an extra-kick for them to have all sixty-five weapons trained on the same prey?
Their verbal barrage began right in the middle of the first slide in the slideshow, and right in the middle of my first sentence. There-after, I estimate, of every ten sentences I attempted in my presentation, I could finish maybe two without interruption.
Maureen, an active woman in her 60s, did her best to keep order, but was totally ignored, and at times assaulted by such threats as, “This guy flies in and out, but you have to live here. So watch what you’re doing, lady!”
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 in our own backyard!”
An older man bellowed, “All Chinese immigrants should be charged $100,000 for the damage done to the Canadian culture, starting with this guy right here, right now”
Yet another shouted above the din, “Us western hunters have been conserving wildlife since before you were born, in China!”
About a third through my slideshow, I found myself turning off the projector and saying, “Fine. If you want a debate, we’ll have a debate.” Strangely, this somehow pacified the proceedings a little bit, since the word “debate” invoked in ones mind the terms “order” and “rules of engagement”, and if then they spoke out of turn, they’d be interrupting one another instead of me.
Basically, their message to us, obviously predetermined among themselves, 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’s assaults were bad, like punching in the gut, some of the women’s were worse, like pinching your sensitive zones. One woman in her thirties, seemingly having come to the meeting right after having dragged a dead bear into town, said with a killer glare, “What you’re trying to do is to deprive my children of a great heritage that his forefathers created and God condoned, and his father and his mother now enjoy!”
Another, also in her thirties, deceptively genteel-looking, said with a sly smirk, “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 teach me anything. Sit down!” I pointed at the “honey” woman and said, “I’ve been listening to this young lady for the last hour. It’s about time you listen to this young lady here for a change. Go ahead, Erica.” Strangely, the man acquiesced, and stranger still, the smirk of the “honey” woman changed into a sweet smile, if only for the moment.
In contrast to the physical heat which I found hard to endure, 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 may be good shots through a gun barrel, but boy, are they lousy shots through their mouths.
A hunter hollered, “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 him as if he hadn’t spoken.
“I think that’s obscene.”
“Should it be banned?”
“Damn right, it should be banned! And it is banned, by the law, and by God, not by some freelance environmentalist.”
“I agree with you on this, sir, but I think for a trophy hunter to kill the most magnificent creature he, or she,” glancing meaningfully at the “honey” woman, “can find so that he or she can have its head to hang on his or her wall is equally obscene, and it, too, should be banned, unless, like you, I have a double standard.”
“Since you obviously don’t understand this, darling,” rejoined the “honey” woman, “I’ll tell you that there is nothing as trophy hunting in this province. We pack out all the meat. We waste nothing.”
“You pack out the meat because you are required by law to do so. And this law, in case you’re not aware, was due not to the hunters, but due to your despised Bear Watch, which dumped a skinned bear carcass they found in the bush on to the front steps of the legislature. Before this law, the bear head and hide are all most bear hunters pack out. Just yesterday, I heard a hunter complain about having to pack out bear meat.”
“I eat the meat of everything I kill.”
“Then may I suggest that you leave the head and hide, and the antlers, behind, since they are of no nutritional value.”
The man next to her shouted, “How dare you insult our women, right here in our town?!”
“Only for as long as they keep on killing our wildlife, right here in our country.”
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, then?” I couldn’t resist exaggeratedly sweeping the room with my eyes. Some dropped theirs involuntarily.
After an awkward moment of silence on their part, I asked them point blank whether they had never deliberately broken any rule, never taken anything on the side, never left any kills unreported, never left any meat behind, never exceeded their bag limits, never wounded any animal that got away. “If you have never done any of these, raise your hand,” I challenged them. Every hand came up without exception, but many after an unmistakable hesitation. Later, Maureen commented that I had very skillfully made the hunters obey my command. “It wasn’t by design. It just worked out that way,” I said truthfully. In retrospect, I can see that anything else I ask a show of hand for would be disrespectfully ignored.
At another point, another hunter repeated, “We are the original and true conservationists of wildlife. You guys are just long-haired, welfare-collecting social parasites, using us to raise funds with.”
“If it is so easy to raise funds, even using you, the social parasites wouldn’t need to be on welfare, would they? Back to your first question, I know that true conservationists conserve wildlife for its own sake and for the health of the planet, and false conservationists conserve only so that they will continue to have something beautiful to kill. Which kind of conservationist are you?”
I saw some fists clenching, and some blue veins bulging on red necks, but I’ve gone too far to back down.
“This guy’s front is to attack the Grizzly bear hunt,” said another hunter, except this time he is addressing his cohorts, “but in fact, it is an attack on the entire hunting tradition, establishment and fraternity, from the top down, and from the foundation up. His real agenda is to stop all hunting, of all species.”
“For once, you might be right,” I said. “Killing animals for entertainment is barbaric and morally bankrupt, no matter what you kill.”
“Are you calling us ‘barbarians’? You Chinese people are very good with that, I hear.”
“My apologies on behalf of the Chinese people. But no, I did not call you a ‘barbarian’, although I do call your so called ‘sport’ ‘barbaric’, and I mean it.”
A woman spoke up, “We don’t kill for entertainment. Hunting is a noble sport. It is not killing. It is communing with nature.”
“Hunting is not killing? Tell it to the bear, and the deer, and the moose. Well, they might consider you not a hunter, but a terrorist, if that makes you feel better. As for entertainment or not entertainment, may be you should take a look at your hunting regs, ma’am. The term for your communing with nature is ‘Recreational Hunting’. So, fine, you don’t kill for entertainment, but you kill for recreation. Big difference.”
Take it easy, Anthony. Don’t piss them off too much.
It has became clear to me that it would be futile for us to try to convert even one of 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 important thing is that a reporter from the Alberni Times was present, and from the readers of his article may emerge a certain number of volunteers who did not attend the meeting, although I would think that those few who did attend would be the most gung-ho of them all. And yet, two or three of them, under hunter intimidation, did slink away part way through the “meeting”. Partly because of the presence of the journalist, the hunters at least maintained a sense of restraint, but only in terms of physical violence, at least for as long as the reporter was around. They seemed determined to give him something dramatic to report about their nature without resorting to fists or worse, and I think they did an admirable job in that.
The meeting did not end until the hunters have spent their fury. Still, they left the room in a huff, with lethal parting-glares aplenty. Unexpectedly, the “honey woman” came to me and said quietly, “You have guts. I’ll give you that much.”
While packing and cleaning up with our hosts, one of the few women echoed “honey woman” unknowingly, except that her word was “brave”. Maureen said in front of the others, “Anthony, now I have full confidence that you can talk your way out of any situation.”
Well, debating is one thing. Putting the pedal to the metal is another. While loading my car, I noticed a truck parked in the shadows on the same side of the street about half a block back, engine and lights off, but with two people inside. It was too dark to tell its colour, maybe brown. I didn’t lead Erica’s attention to it. As I drove off, it did the same. I made one or two random turns and the truck followed suit, staying about half a block behind. I looked for a police car but couldn’t find any. I looked for the police station and had no idea where it was. I reminded myself that when several Bear Watch women were surrounded and harassed by hunters in Campbell River, the police supposedly did not respond to their call for help. Finally, I took the plunge and got on to the highway due east towards Qualicum, as we had intended to. The truck did too. I could identify it because its right headlight was brighter than its left, and its right parking light was out. I stayed within 10 km/h of the speed limit, and the truck observed the two-second rule, for the time being. Still too close to town; give it ten k or so, I thought.
Erica and I talked for a bit, and she surprised me by saying that she could sympathize with the hunters’ viewpoint, and that maybe we should re-examine our anti-hunting stance. I thought I heard bits and pieces of this talk yesterday at the Tanners’ when she was talking to the reporter. She admitted that she had been thinking along those lines since almost Day 1. She said that if we dropped anti-hunting and just went for anti-poaching, namely to press for a ten-fold increase in penalties, we would get the support of environmentalists and hunters alike, and that we would certainly succeed. She even went as far as to say that she might start her own anti-poaching referendum if WCWC rejected her idea. She acquitted herself by saying that her first concern was the bears, and that if we won the anti-poaching referendum, lots of bears would be saved, whereas if we stayed our course against legal hunting as well as poaching, we would set up the hunters against us and would surely fail and end up with nothing, and that even if we could succeed, we would force many legal hunters to become poacher. So, she’s lost it, at least the original and central principle of the campaign. There suddenly seemed a wall between the driver’s and passenger’s seats.
I listened to her with one ear, and kept an eye on the rear view mirror. Erica reclined her seat and soon fell asleep. The lights in the rear-view mirror drew closer. I increased my speed. The truck did the same. I slowed down to see if it would pass. It drew even closer but did not pass. If it tried, I wouldn’t have let it anyway, not wanting to be blocked; being able to see its license plate number probably wouldn’t do much good under those circumstances. 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. Was this just intimidation? Or was it a real attempt to push me off the highway? I did not test the latter. I’ve been tailgated a thousand times by highway loonies before, but never quite this tightly, and not by road-rage hotheads but by a cold-blooded killer.
I thought again about my options. I had already left the first one behind, not having used the cell phone while in town to call the police. I tried the cell phone now, but we were already outside any service area. I thought about doing a U-turn back to Port Alberni for the police, but the truck had come too close for me to do that safely. Only one thing left to do. I had to out-run it. My car, a 1993 Mazda MX6-LS Mystere, is low-slung, aerodynamic, light and nimble, and, with its sport suspension, it has a 0.86g lateral-g-force tolerance, whereas that of a truck’s is less than 0.70g, which means that my car can take a corner much faster than the truck without losing traction or rolling over. The twisty highway was an advantage to my car over the truck. So I floored it and took the curves near the limit. The truck, probably with a big V8, could probably gain on the straights, but on this highway, its head lights receded, farther and farther until they finally disappeared behind a curve. Did I leave them in the dust? Or in the ditch? I smiled at the thought, but kept the speed up. I tried the cell phone again. Still no service, which strangely was comforting in that neither could the pursuers call somebody up ahead to intercept me. Unless some of their buddies called from Port Alberni, which seemed unlikely. Erica slept through the whole thing. When she woke up, she complained that I was driving too fast. By then, the glow of Qualicum was on the horizon. I kept the chase to myself, even from the Tanners.
Thinking of the chase, which could have turned deadly, and which could happen again farther down the road, and thinking of those incidences where environmentalists were actually killed, I pondered the probability of my survival. Very high, if you could call the 1% non-survival probability low.
* * * * *
Bear hunters confront bare-faced petition to put them into permanent hibernation
June 14, 1996
Alberni Valley Times
by Diane Morrison
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 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 is 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 the tiger and the rhino 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.” . . .