Lesley Fox: Power, politics, the Vancouver Aquarium, and #MakeFurHistory

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      The practice of democracy is going out the window when it comes to animal welfare.

      Take, for instance, the Vancouver park board’s handling of the Vancouver Aquarium. After years of debate, experts, testimony, and a clear mandate from the public, a motion was passed to draft a bylaw that would prevent the aquarium from continuing to breed whales and dolphins. Yet, as a small point in the recent election, the NPA-elected members are vowing to overturn the ban. Why? Well, because—y’know.

      It comes down to this: when you infuse power, politics, and animal welfare, there is one clear winner (the one holding the bank notes) and there is one clear loser (the animals).

      A simple referendum would decide, ultimately, what the people of Vancouver want. Public opinion has long been on the side of the marine mammals in the case of the Vancouver Aquarium. But those in control—more specifically, those who want to stay in control—refuse to allow that. There is only one reason to avoid a referendum: fear of the outcome.

      But why? Why would elected officials be afraid of such a clear mandate coming from the people of Vancouver?

      I can only offer supposition. But you can bet that money, politics, and power play a role in every theory.

      That a motion in favour of a breeding ban can be put on the books after such a lengthy and expensive process only to be overturned immediately by politicians with their own agenda is an insult to the democratic process. It is an insult to those who worked tirelessly to have not this decision, but this process, honoured.

      You can even look to our recent dealings with the RCMP and the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). After decades of reasoning and discussions with them, the RCMP chose to look to their own members and the public on the issue of their muskrat fur hats. As it turned out, what we said was true: people (including the Mounties themselves) didn’t like the fur and wanted another option. With little fanfare, the RCMP investigated, tested, and began the acquisition process for toques in regular cold-weather conditions.

      Enter the CPC. Upon hearing from their supporters (i.e. the fur lobby), they immediately announced they would overturn the RCMP’s decision. Years of work by advocates, thousands of man-hours by the RCMP’s uniform division, gone, for the sake of getting a few votes.

      Perhaps, after decades of debate and political maneuvering, it’s time for a change in tactics.

      It was with this theory that we launched our #MakeFurHistory campaign. We have, since the 1950s, tried to work with governments on the issues of fur trapping and farming. We have been patient and polite. We have gathered signatures, letters, and scientific reports. Yet the only organizations the government(s) have chosen to work with are those who are turning a profit from the skin of fur-bearing animals.

      The tax dollars from the fur industry—in 2012 valued at approximately $800 million—are attractive to politicians. The votes—approximately 75,000 trappers (their numbers)—and their families are even more attractive. They also use the “us versus them” concept. If you’re against the fur industry, you must be against the rural way of life.

      We’ve decided to try a different tactic. The only reason the fur industry continues today is that people are buying fur. Though most of the fur products “harvested” in Canada are sent overseas, some remain in country, such as the trapped and skinned coyotes used in Canada Goose jackets.

      Rather than targeting the elected government, which clearly isn’t interested in hearing from the people who put them in office, we’re targeting the consumer. The fur industry only exists because people buy the product. But what if they knew? What if they saw and felt the horror that exists in this inherently inhumane industry?

      MakeFurHistory.com takes viewers on a roller-coaster ride of emotion and truth. They see inside the fur industry—inside the filthy, dreary fur farms that are littered across the country. Viewers are then given the opportunity to take a pledge to be fur-free, to refuse to be a part of the cruelty. They’re directed to a site where they can send letters to companies who sell fur. They’re given an opportunity to get #MakeFurHistory merchandise, which includes stickers, shirts, and brochures. They’re given the ability to make a difference.

      Democracy is not working for non-human animals. Despite the polls, the science, and the overwhelming public support for new laws (and laws are popping up to protect wildlife around the world), the government is failing to do its job. The system has failed us, and has failed the animals. Now it’s time to work outside of that system.

      We will continue to shine a light on the darkest corner of the darkest cage. We will continue to speak for the animals whose screams are being ignored. We will #MakeFurHistory.



      Ian Boothby

      Nov 20, 2014 at 3:09pm

      Another day another anti-Aquarium piece. No new information. No new angle.

      You say the losers in this are the animals. Vision Vancouver succeeding with their Empty The Tanks movement would have really hurt the animals at the Aquarium. Where do the unreleasable animals go when you empty the tanks? They'd die in the oceans and sea pens if they existed would have to be near the shore and the water would be too polluted. The only thing left to do would be to give animals to other aquariums or as Constance Barnes suggested with Chester the false killer whale, euthanasia.

      Empty The Tanks failed thankfully and so they wouldn't look like they wasted a large amount of tax dollars on this nonsense a bone got thrown to them on the issue of breeding, even though the only animals at the Aquarium who could are two porpoises not yet mature enough to but who have been together most of their lives. That law would save separated them. That's the only thing that would have happened. Everything else is outside of the Park Board's jurisdiction.

      This has been a huge waste of time and money and only endangered the animals people want to help. People with good intentions who show up to protests with signs with orcas on them wanting them to be freed. Not that there are any. And people like Vision never correct them, that's the shameful thing. They keep the bad info going to try and keep themselves in power.


      Nov 20, 2014 at 4:05pm

      @Ian Boothby , No member of the park board nor the mayor nor Annelise Sorg or Jeffrey Matthews nor any of the activists quoted by the Straight and other media outlets have ever once suggested that the aquarium "empty the tanks". Never once.

      The only individuals who repeating "empty the tanks" are captive-breeding advocates like you who repeat and repeat as a straw-man argument.

      It's a complete red herring and one pro-breeders use strategically to distract from the real debate.

      All the park board tried to implement was a slow "phase out" via a breeding ban. No plans to release. Nothing like that. Just a ban on breeeding.

      Keep trying through.

      there was no ban. a lost opportunity

      Nov 20, 2014 at 4:34pm

      The one thing this piece fails to mention is Vision never enacted the breeding ban that was promised in July. They had 4 months.

      The second thing that isn't mentioned is there was a motion to have a plebiscite on cetacean captivity. The referendum motion was introduced by Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr in April. It was defeated by a 1-9 vote with Vision & the NPA voting together.

      Vision and the NPA are on the same page with the Aquarium. It's time to acknowledge this. Nothing will be passed on Monday night, the ban will not be enacted. The incoming board has two Greens, but no COPE, which virtually guarantees that nothing will change with the incoming NPA majority for the next years related to cetaceans at the Aquarium.


      Nov 20, 2014 at 5:17pm

      Democracy isn't working for non-human animals? How about human animals?

      Save Vancouver

      Nov 20, 2014 at 6:54pm

      Dear Lesley Fox: Do you actually read the drivel you write? I doubt it otherwise you wouldn't scribble "That a motion in favour of a breeding ban can be put on the books after such a lengthy and expensive process only to be overturned immediately by politicians with their own agenda is an insult to the democratic process."

      The election was a democratic process honey. And the voters chose to elect park board members who were crystal clear on their opposition to the breeding ban.


      Nov 21, 2014 at 6:16am

      Thank you Lesley for this article. You nailed it.

      Tommy Khang

      Nov 21, 2014 at 9:12am

      This commentary piece is like reading verbal diarrhea. Please explain to me what fur bearing has to do with aquatic animals? Is the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals concerned because the next thing at the Aquarium gift shop will be Beluga Fur Jackets?

      Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people; last time I checked animals ain't people.

      Ty Savoy

      Nov 21, 2014 at 10:12am

      Here's an Interactive Google Map showing the Fur Farm, and Wild Fur Industry Sites in NS, and across Canada.

      If you zoom in, you can get an idea of the enormous size of some of them. ie Willowdale Farms, near Berwick, Nova Scotia. I count 109 mink shed buildings. I measured them - each one is averaging 100 meters long. Two rows of cages in each building - Do the math and you get almost 22 km of mink cages, if laid end to end. ON ONE FARM. That would take you from South End Halifax to Middle Sackville. The amount of suffering going on in those tiny cages is beyond my imagination. No empathy, no compassion for these animals is evident anywhere on these 'farms' The Map:

      Fur Farm and Wild Fur Industry Sites in Canada