by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
The tedious trail of animal activism
Make no mistake; I have been part of many successful efforts to stop, or prevent, lethal culling of deer and other wildlife species. From time to time, self-styled animal activists ask, “How did you do it?,” with the “you” being plural. It is always a co-operative, multi-faceted process. But I – we – have had our share of failures, and long ago learned that “being right” is, while essential, not enough. The deck is stacked against us because legal culls of native wildlife are government-sanctioned, and the government—federal, provincial, or municipal—has more power and resources than do we. And, if they don’t play fair, we have to try other tactics, such as garnering media and subsequent public support for our positions.
But at the provincial level, there is also the Ombudsman, or Ombudsperson: a politically independent “third party” charged by the legislature to assure “fair, reasonable, appropriate and equitable” administrative practices and services by public agencies.
The issue is the culling of deer in Cranbrook, British Columbia (see: http://www.bornfreeusa.org/weblog_canada.php?p=3449&more=1 and http://www.bornfreeusa.org/weblog_canada.php?p=3487&more=1). We had already lost an appeal to British Columbia’s Ombudsperson, Kim Carter, when we documented our concern that the contract to award the grisly job of live-trapping and then killing deer violated conflict-of-interest guidelines. The contractor sat on the committee that made the decision and bid within a few percentage points of the allocated amount. But it was ruled that the information was, if not exactly widely-known, still in the public domain. We lost.
On July 17, we submitted a second concern to the Ombudsperson. This time, our concern was that the residents of Cranbrook had been denied the ability to democratically participate in decisions that concerned them. Again, the issue was that the contract to catch and kill deer in Cranbrook was all done behind closed doors, which seems to violate the rules of the Community Charter. The Charter does allow for a degree of secrecy, and on January 9, 2013, a city administrator wrote, “…I am concerned for the safety of staff, contractor and public in general with respect to this project. Thus I plan to carry out the selection of the contractor and the cull in a confidential matter. Staff will work with the RCMP. We may be criticized by some for not being open with the cull but I believe we have a reasonable position that public safety is more important.”
But that makes as much sense as holding meetings concerning placement of road signs because some hunters shoot holes in them or teens spray-paint them. In fact, there is no indication of this concern in any of the minutes of meetings preceding the private decision-making meetings. As one councillor put it, “The argument that swayed us to retreat in-camera was because of alleged vandalism and public safety incidents during the Invermere deer cull and the possibility of similar incidents occurring here. There is some merit in this argument, but I have since come to the conclusion that, whether the argument is meritorious or not, vandalism and public safety is an RCMP issue, not a council issue, and it shouldn’t have swayed our judgment in taking the public’s business behind closed doors. Once we retreated into our locked chamber, we lost control of the issue and the rest is history.” Invermere is a separate town where unknown people found and damaged one or more deer traps.
It gets worse. Colleen Bailey, the one citizen on the Urban Deer Management Advisory Committee (UDMAC) opposed to culling in favour of more effective and humane resolution of conflicts with urban deer, was summarily kicked off of the committee: the only member so shabbily treated. Yes, she was a strong advocate for the deer—but she never spoke against culling on behalf of UDMAC. On the other hand, at least one staunch deer cull advocate, Angus Davis—who even placed a trap on his property—remained on the committee, voting in secrecy and getting his way. Apparently, Cranbrook’s idea of “democracy” precludes debate, openness, and dissent. Sad.
So, we were pleased last week that both Bailey’s own submission to the Ombudsperson (concerning her treatment by Council) and our own (concerning the inappropriateness of secrecy in what should be public affairs) will be considered, and it will be determined whether they merit an investigation. It’s not easy. We could lose again. But, we have to try. We have to jump through the hoops. We have to play their game, their way.
Here is the timeline of events:
•In April 2012, Council voted to conduct a cull of up to 50 deer.
•In September 2012, UDMAC members, including Ms. Bailey, were told that Cranbrook would seek the cull permit—but that the 2012 cull was put on hold pending the outcome of a court case in the town of Invermere that challenged the cull in that community (also in south-central British Columbia).
•In October 2012, UDMAC members were reminded to reapply because their membership on the Committee would expire on December 10, 2012.
•On December 6, 2012, the province issued the cull permit.
•At the December 10, 2012 Council meeting, all members who reapplied, with the exception of Ms. Bailey, were reappointed. Bailey was replaced with a non-opponent to the cull.
•On December 12, 2012, the municipal staff notified the “new” UDMAC Committee that Council sought its advice on a “time-sensitive matter.”
•On December 18, 2012, UDMAC recommended that the city implement a cull of up to 30 mule deer.
•On January 7, 2013, Council voted “in camera” to go forward with the cull.
•On January 8, 2013, municipal staff sent out a Quote for Service.
•On January 9, 2013, Councillor Warner expressed a real concern about moving forward with the cull because of the way the decision was reached. He did not oppose culling, per se.
•On February 6, 2013, the contract was signed with CP Trapping.
•On February 14, 2013, the BC Deer Protection Coalition, made up of a fully open and transparent group of provincial citizens working to stop or prevent deer culling in favour of more humane and effective ways to resolve conflicts between deer and people, exposed Cranbrook Council’s decision to move forward with the cull.
•On the same day, that Council finally acknowledged the decision, but only after the Coalition’s ad raised the issue.
•On February 14, 2013, the cull began.
•On February 23, 2013, Councillor Warner published his letter in e-know.