We expect thoughtless hyperbole from politicians, but Senator Charlie Watt went over the top with his comment that Bill C-10 (b) would, if passed, cause "cultural genocide" for aboriginal hunters. The bill, passed three times by Parliament but held up last week in the Senate, is the first significant revision of a 19th-century law to protect animals from "unnecessary cruelty." It seeks to reflect the facts that animals can suffer and that Canadians are disgusted by cream-puff sentences delivered by the courts to fiends who torture animals.
But let us be clear from the outset. The bill does not, and under law cannot, address animals' suffering from pain that derives from such regulated legal activities as farming, hunting, trapping and research, unless the people thus engaged torment an animal far beyond regulated practice. Would a farmer skin a cow alive? No, but self-styled "artists" skinned a living cat in front of a video camera in Toronto a couple of years ago.
The public was sickened, as were the police, who could not bring charges that reflected the severity of the crime or society's reaction to it. Under our outdated law, animals' value derives from their status as property, just like a piece of jewellery. The cat in question, a stray, was of no commercial value. Society cares, but the law does not reflect that fact.
The bill was the object of intense lobbying, and ultimately the parliamentary system of elected officials did its job and passed the bill, only to have it fatally tied up by 23 non-elected senators including Watt. It would take a miracle of biblical proportions to save the bill, now dangling in a grey zone of legalistic confusion due to the prime minister's departure and the prolonged break in parliamentary proceedings.
Genocide? What a repugnant term Watt applied to the bill's potential consequences, and by extension to the majority of Canadians who support it.
What Watt wanted was some sort of exemption for native hunters. Why? Does he honestly believe native culture depends, in ways that other cultures do not, on the sadistic abuse of animals?
Watt, who is Inuit, reportedly said, "There was a massive genocide across the Arctic." He claims seal hunters killed themselves in response to the European market's partial rejection of seal skins. "They had no way of supporting their families any more," he said, "and their pride was taken away."
The European ban Watt refers to only affected baby seals killed each spring by non-native hunters off Newfoundland and in the Gulf of Mexico. It specifically exempted products produced by the native hunters who kill adult, not baby, seals, and mostly ringed seals, not harp seals.
Ironically, the Canadian federal government blurred this distinction.
Years ago, after hearing an Inuit trapper complain about the declining value of his Arctic fox pelts, I talked with various fur industry experts and was told that trappers' poor quality and inconsistent quantity could never compete with the perfectly prepared furs mass-produced on southern farms close to market and geared to market demand.
And in years when wild foxes were abundant, fur values declined; when the animals were rare, income was sparse.
The fur industry, while using the plight of native trappers to justify fur-wearing by its customers, resolutely refuses to tag furs derived from native endeavour. They know that fur sales put little money into native communities. I suspect Charlie Watt knows that, too.
Thus, "animal rights activists" do far less damage to native interests than the fur trade's fur farm industry. The most significant targets of animal rights activists - the fashion fur and meat industries, factory farming, animal research, zoos, circuses, rodeos, sport hunting - are none of them part of aboriginal culture or tradition.
That American who used a shotgun blast to castrate his dog last week should come to Canada. If you're found guilty of such horrors here, you'll get your wrist slapped and little more.