Peter Fricker: CBC shouldn't celebrate inauthentic and inhumane Calgary Stampede

By Peter Fricker

Late last year, Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC, sparked a nationwide controversy when it refused to broadcast the famous Crufts dog show because of animal welfare concerns. Crufts is a hugely popular national icon, attracting several million viewers. Yet the BBC, which had televised the show for 42 years, ended its contract and gave up its exclusive rights to broadcast the program.

The reason for the corporation’s decision was one of its own television documentaries, which revealed that pedigree dogs are plagued by genetic disease due to decades of inbreeding for shows like Crufts. The result is widespread suffering among genetically damaged dogs.

Faced with the facts, the BBC decided it could not support an event that compromised the welfare of animals. Though welcomed by animal advocacy groups and much of the public, the decision cost the corporation one of its most popular programs.

Here in Canada, our national public broadcaster is taking a different approach to a controversial cultural icon. Last year, the CBC signed a three-year contract with the Calgary Stampede to broadcast the rodeo, declaring: “The Calgary Stampede is a wonderful, entertaining and authentic Canadian tradition that has special meaning for millions across the country.” During the 2008 Stampede, the CBC ran 90 hours of rodeo coverage “Celebrating Canada’s Western Heritage”.

In fact, the Stampede has almost nothing “authentic” about it and has little to do with western heritage. Its founder, Guy Weadick, was an American vaudeville and Wild West show performer. He dreamt up the chuckwagon race for the Stampede in 1923. Real cowboys did not race chuckwagons. Nor did they ride bulls (why would they?) or wrestle steers. Steer-wrestling was created in the 1930s by yet another American Wild West show entertainer. Most other events are distortions of ranching practices—no one ever timed a cowboy’s work and handed out huge sums of money for being the fastest.

The truth is that the Stampede has always been falsely promoted as western heritage—first by vaudevillian showmen, then by marketing executives, and now by the CBC. The Calgary Stampede as western heritage is not just a myth. It’s a lie.

But what does it matter? So what if the Stampede is just sensational entertainment masquerading as the history of the Old West. Where’s the harm?

The harm lies in rodeo’s brutalization of animals for the sake of human amusement. Virtually every animal welfare organization in Canada opposes rodeo, including the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and the Humane Society of Canada. So do the SPCAs of Britain, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The very agencies empowered to protect animals from cruelty have determined that rodeo is inhumane. Unlike the CBC, they don’t think rodeo is “wonderful”.

Yet, Canadian SPCAs are almost powerless to protect rodeo animals. Canadian law in effect exempts the treatment of farm animals from most cruelty provisions, even when they are used for mere entertainment.

So legally little can be done to stop the inhumane treatment of rodeo animals. Only an informed public debate could generate the shift in public opinion necessary to challenge rodeo.

It is a debate the CBC might have started if, like the BBC, it had examined its corporate conscience and questioned the morality of rodeo and its claims on our heritage. Instead, it became a public relations agency for the Stampede.

The CBC defended its promotion of the Stampede in a letter to the Vancouver Humane Society, arguing that it is “popular with millions of Canadians”. But popularity is not a measure of morality.

In 1906, a New York zoo put an African tribesman on public display. A crowd of 40,000 people lined up to see him. A New York Times editorial dismissed protests against the exhibition: “We do not quite understand all the emotion which others are expressing in the matter....It is absurd to make moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation Benga is suffering.”

Sensational events, from medieval bull-baiting to19th-century freak shows, have always drawn crowds. Public executions used to be popular—the last one in the United States took place in 1936, attended by 20,000 people.

What does change, over time, are public attitudes on morality—but only when they are informed by cultural institutions willing to scrutinize and confront the societal norms of the day.

Like the New York Times’ blasé response in 1906 to putting a human being in a zoo, the CBC has chosen to act as a creature of its time, without the courage, imagination, or critical thinking to challenge the status quo.

Peter Fricker is the projects and communications director for the Vancouver Humane Society.

Comments (20) Add New Comment
JoanneChang
There is nothing traditional about blatant animal abuse and CBC certainly should know better than to promote cruelty in the name of entertainment. Defenseless animals are kicked, punched, electrocuted, roped, injured and even killed in rodeos by grown men in front of thousands of spectators. Just because violence towards farm animals is considered "traditional" doesn't mean that CBC ought to promote violence. What if dog fighting were a tradition in Canada, would CBC choose to promote that too?
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Pro Canada
Rodeo is not blatant animal abuse. Rodeo animals are well treated and cared for. I would look at sports like football, and inhumane treatment of young gymnasts before I would attack rodeo. They do not use stock prods, and rodeo animals are treated like the stars they are. You really don't know what your are talking about JoanneChang
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Amanda
Fantastic article. I've been an Old West enthusiast for years and know that there's nothing remotely traditional about rodeo. Kudos to the VHS for condemning this embarrassing spectacle of animal abuse.
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Native Calgarian
This writer knows nothing about ranching traditions in the west. Today, calves are still roped, horses are still broken (and I don't mean hit or whipped), cowboys still race to determine who's faster or better. The animals in the Stampede are so unbelieveably pampered. I think you city folk
should live on a ranch for a few months to see what life in the country is really like.
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Phillip Martin
Alberta has sustained remote negative comments on its energy resource, the oilsands, and now is receiving more dumb comments about an event that is well controlled and humane by distant "experts" who have their own agendas.
Sorry folks, in Alberta we wear steel toe caps to church, not TOO-TOOS like you lefties.
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Millie
We here in Alberta love to watch horses get killed every year in wagon racing. We like the snap of the rope that upends the calf. We like our girls to smile and not think. We here in Alberta think children must have a mother at home, working, unpaid. We think it's ok to shoot anyone who steals our property. We are proud to give away our resources with very little in return for our children. We Albertans think we know the difference between what ought to be taught to our children and what not to teach. We live in one of the richest places in the world and we still can't understand why those 40,000+ homeless people just can't get a job. We love our $80,000 pickups that cost $150.00 to fill. We do hate organized labour (unless it's police, fire or military). We think it's ok for those who have to get medical help before those who don't. We think long term sustainability is socialist thinking, and gas rebate are just common sense. We fought long and hard to keep homosexuals from working with kids or matrimony. We think Quebec, and anything east of our province can go sit on it.

Alberta, the intellectual armpit of Canada.
Now shoot, shovel and shut up.

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Pro Albertan
Go Fricker yourself!
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dawnofanewera
This is a brilliant article that expresses what I've felt for decades growing up in Calgary being forced to experience the Stampede. As a child, I knew something wasn't right about watching these animals being whipped, prodded, slammed against the ground, and cinched to the point where they can barely breathe. It took me years to understand that the concept of the rodeo as entertainment is simply a prepackaged marketing ploy which has fooled many.
I don't think this is a "left" or "right" argument. It is the simple question of: would you trade places with these animals?

To the advocates of the rodeo who claim the animals are well-treated: would you choose a lifetime of confinement in which your only release is being used (roughly - to the point where you may become injured and die)?
If you find yourselves thinking: "well, I'd rather not," then consider that the animals may feel just like you.
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Roger Clarke
I guess "pampered" means something else in Alberta-ese. Something along the lines of "terrorized & abused into performing". Remind me how they get the bulls & broncos to buck? And why they stop bucking as soon as the strap is removed? Oh, and why animals keep dying in rodeos--I'm sure they're actually just exploding with joy.

Come to the stampede, where our new slogan is: "No, really, those baby cows *like* being violently jerked to a halt by a rope around their neck & then slammed to the ground."
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Alison C.
The rodeo is a disgusting form of "entertainment", as the CBC calls it. Shame on them, and thank you, Peter, for writing a logical commentary on the subject. If all of these world SPCAs and Humane Societies deem the rodeo as being cruel to animals, then that's something to be duly noted.
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Evil Eye
And these comments, mostly from Vancouver, where the poor the elderly and the drug addicted are thrown to the streets to die in squalor. Maybe someone in Calgary should compare the rodeo with Vancouver's notorious East side?

If only those who supposedly care for the animals in the Stampede, care as much for the "disposables" on Vancouver's streets. Or even the millions dying in wars in Africa?

Get a life folks.
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L.
Born and raised in the country.
Steers and calfs are wrestled and roped during branding and castrating.
People have been racing horse, carts/ buggies/ stagecoaches/ wagons since they could hook an animal to them just to see if they can beat each other.
To make a horse not want you on it's back, just get the right horse and see if it's possible to stay on it.
And Bulls kill and maime more cowboys then have ever hurt them, if those boys are dumb enough to get on thier backs cheer for the bull if you want.
in 20 years 40 animals have died- 9 of those caused by some idoit who thought it would be great to startle a herd of horses on a bridge during a stock drive by blowing his city folk car horn, so don't blame the cowboys cruelty.
No one is denying that animals get hurt, accidents do happen.
But stop with the attacks on people who love the animals you seem to think they brutalize.
No one here even mentioned the multiple barns of cows, bulls, horses, pigs, sheep, chickens all on display for everyone to see and enjoy at the grounds. Or the educational displays put on by the many parts of ag canada for the public.
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Willow Hoechsmann
To compare the rodeo to homelessness means nothing. One does not make up for the other. How does homelessness in Vancouver make the cruelty in the rodeo okay?

I have never been a fan of the rodeo. Growing up in southern Alberta made me aware of the culture but I could never understand how watching animals being abused for pointless pride could be considered entertainment.

I love how people continue to say how the animals are not hurt during the shows...I say, try running at full speed and have some one rope you by the neck...then if you say it doesn't hurt I will believe you. What I think people are really trying to say is that they don't care if the animals feel pain, the entertainment is worth it.

Since farm animals are treated as commodities, like vegetables, nothing truly of value except in slaughter or entertainment the records of the physical trauma and abuse (including death resulting from) is seldom recorded. Isn't it a tad schizophrenic to say that the people love the animals in these rodeos? Is that how we treat the animals we love?

The rodeo is not ethical just because it has been around for decades. Some traditions are just better left to die.
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Mike H - Calgary
This article is so one sided it smacks of extreme leftism. Most of you lefties can never see another side of a story and appear balanced. I guess we should all become whiny, vegetarian pacifists like most of the Vancouverites. I can't believe you really think your opinion means anything to Albertans. You have your heads so far up your arse you can't hear, see or even smell the truth. It's no wonder you only have one point of view and it's usually very wrong.
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Well duh!
Of coarse most of the comments here are from Vancouver...read:
"Vancouver's Online source" LOL...now don't you feel better? But we welcome all hill-billy comments like yours "Evil Eye"!
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D Perth WA
To all those of you Canadians who LOVE rodeos...seems that you misunderstand what welfare actually means. Welfare means to prevent abuse, anxiety, fear, pain, stress...death. Rodeos are carried out because the person/s involved have fun. The animals however do not. They are bullied, hit, whipped, prodded, belted, and otherwise forced to behave in a manner that fits with the Modus Operandi of the rodeo. On this basis alone Canadians should be deeply ashamed of this activity. How ever can terrifying an animal feel good? Dont some Canadians have something better to do in their lives?

I have read most of the comments and they express empathy with the animals.They show that it is clearly better to demonstrate kindness and mercy that to show brutality and cruelty. Canada has enough on its plate with seal slaughter...you dont need rodeos.

Australia has an awful reputation for legalised animal cruelty. We export animals live, we mass slaughter our national emblam and sadly and embarrassingly, some rednecks support rodeos. This results in broken legs, horrendous bruising, disclocations, stress, distress and fear endured by the animals forced to act. How can we say we care, we love animals when we do this to them?

There are no guarantees in rodeos that the animals will be physically okay, and every guarantee that they will suffer pyschological damage.

So to those of you who love violence against animals...you are an embarrassment to Canada.
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Amelia M.
Animal rights vegans tend to be the ones opposing any and all animal use. So many times it is urban or suburban AR's doing the opposing. I think this article is rather biased and a bit sensational. When it comes to promoting the cult of animal rights, the media is easily pulled in.
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art
I do not like the Rodeo at all. It is cruel. I have lived in Alberta all my life and I am ashamed by the whole family fun promotion of it. Every few years numerous horses die or have to be killed due to injuries. It is sick.
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Alberta sucks
I've heard all the usual arguments FOR rodeo, ad nauseum, for all of the hellish 19 yrs. I've had to live here. The pro-rodeo folks almost always try to deflect the issue onto something else & their answers (read "excuses") never fail to demonstrate their basic stupidity, ignorance & lack of any spiritual morality. We must remember that AB has a higher level of alcohol consumption and spousal abuse than most other Cdn. provinces & it shows. Maybe it's also the altitude, & therefore oxygen deprivation here, that robs them of any semblance of real thought, or compassion.

And before you make your feeble attempts to trip me up with your deflective nonsense, no, I DON'T eat animal flesh, no I DON'T wear or buy animal by-products, no I DON'T buy animal-tested products, yes I DO also aid in human-related issues, etc., etc., etc. So don't even bother trying that BS on ME. Take your ill-educated sneering at anyone who threatens the status quo and stuff it. You're scared to death of change and growth & won't do well in the new world paradigm. (you'd best look that up in yer dikshunaree)

The one thing pro rodeo folks will NEVER do is take those challenges to subject themselves, or their children, to all the exact, same treatments they dole out to animals, because they KNOW they'd never survive very long & would also be forced to change their tired, antiquated views. If any of them EVER agrees to be castrated w/o any anesthetic, say, or any of the other countless, gross practices they subject their "well-loved" animals (cattle, horses, cats & dogs on their farms) to, THEN I might listen to what they have to say. Until then, they're nothing but hypocrites,,.who like to try and call all those who disagree with them the same. Just a WEEEE bit of projection there, don't you think?

Millie is completely BANG-ON, as to what it's like to live here..if you have half a brain cell & even a smidgen of heart, that is. Don't dare have an open mind here, or you'll die a slow & torturous spiritual death. And God forbid you really love & respect animals. Then you're just labeled as some kind of freak. A "freak," for being more LOVING than them. I guess their so-revered Bible lied, too, and God ISN'T part of any of the very creatures He made. But if they admitted that, they'd have to admit they're willfully acting against God Himself. So....denial is easier.

In general, Albertans hate anything that's good for the entire planet and the day I get to leave this hideous, backwoods place will be one of the happiest days of my life.

Never mind banning rodeo events & squashing all that made-up BS they spout about 'historical' ranch life (and blatantly ignoring all the hard data that proves it nothing more than a propaganda lie), just nuke this useless place. As it stands today, it's no good for anyone, even the human animal. (but I'm sure they're going to deny THAT basic scientific fact, too......wait for it....)
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Middle Way Path
"Millie" and "Alberta Sucks" - wow, I thought I was alone here..I agree whole heartedly with you both. Thank you for speaking for me as well as the voiceless ones that are suffering. Silence is complicity.
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