Hunting for sport is ‘unethical and immoral’
Throughout much of Canada, Indigenous peoples and non-aboriginal Canadians hunt and eat elk, moose, seal, caribou, geese and other wild game. Hunting is more than just a recreational activity in rural and northern Canada. It contributes to food security, providing healthy, nutrient-rich, low-fat food.
Despite Canada’s wealth, many rural and northern communities face chronic food insecurity because staples such as milk, bread, fruits, vegetables and meat cost so much.
A major review of food security among First Nations communities in Canada found one-third of people struggle to get enough nutrition to stay healthy, compared to eight per cent for the country as a whole, largely because of poverty and prohibitively high costs to buy food in northern and rural regions.
That makes hunting and fishing extremely important in rural and northern Canada. Household surveys confirm that foods harvested from the wild, including wild meat, remain major dietary staples for Indigenous people as well for many others in northern and rural Canada.
Hunting also supports a holistic approach to the overall health and well-being of many Canadians, especially in Indigenous communities. A David Suzuki Foundation study on the importance of caribou hunting to First Nations in the boreal forest found, “harvesting as a practice is not solely a process of obtaining meat for nutrition. With each hunt a deliberate set of relationships and protocols is awakened and reinforced. These include reciprocity, social cohesion, spirituality and the passing on of knowledge to future generations.”
Although hunting and fishing are clearly a treasured tradition, important to diets and health in much of Canada, killing animals for sport, such as trophy hunting grizzly bears in British Columbia, is entirely different. Trophy hunters shoot about 300 grizzly bears every year in B.C., despite widespread public opposition.
As Heiltsuk Nation councillor Jess Housty said, “It’s not a part of our culture to kill an animal for sport and hang them on a wall. When we go hunting it’s for sustenance purposes, not trophy hunting.”
The Heiltsuk and many other First Nations banned grizzly bear trophy hunting in their territories several years ago. Yet, the B.C. government refuses to recognize the bans and continues to promote killing grizzly bears for sport.
A 2015 Insights West poll found 91 per cent of B.C. residents oppose trophy hunting, while only 23 per cent of residents oppose hunting animals for meat. The percentage of people strongly opposed to trophy hunting is exactly the same in urban areas like Metro Vancouver (75 per cent) and rural B.C. (75 per cent), contrary to recent claims by B.C. Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson to the media that public opposition follows an urban-rural split.
Other politicians know that while most B.C. residents accept hunting for meat, an overwhelming majority opposes trophy hunting and want the grizzly hunt stopped. The B.C. NDP recently announced that if elected, it will ban grizzly bear trophy hunting, but would allow killing grizzlies for food. The Green Party earlier adopted a similar position.
The David Suzuki Foundation supports such a ban, although we remain concerned that trophy hunters could continue to kill grizzlies under the guise of food hunting. Hardly anyone kills grizzly for the meat, as it’s often infected with the microscopic parasite, Trichinella, which can make one seriously ill. Let’s not kid ourselves. Trophy hunters shoot grizzly bears for the supposed “thrill” of killing a large and ferocious animal and to take home a trophy such as the paws, pelts or head.
Any loophole that allows hunters to kill grizzly bears needlessly must be closed. One way to do this would be to make it illegal to remove, sell, traffic or trade in any grizzly bear trophy items, like pelts or paws, as is currently the case with bear gall bladders and genitalia in B.C.
Hunting is a long, proud tradition in Canada. Many people do it to feed their families. But putting a deer or moose in your freezer for the winter is not the same as slaughtering a grizzly simply for the thrill. Killing grizzly bears for sport is unethical and immoral. Most B.C. residents, in cities and rural communities, want it to end. It’s time our politicians listened to the public and brought an end to the cruel and unsustainable trophy hunt.
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Faisal Moola is the foundation’s director-general for Ontario and Northern Canada and an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto and York University.