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Canada prepares 'historic' animal rights standards

Nearly naked protesters Nichole Mann, left, and John Line join other animal rights activists demonstrating in front of a Calgary store to protest the sale of garments containing fur in February, 2006. Tim Fraser, Calgary Herald.

Michael Oliveira, Canadian Press

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2007

TORONTO -- In the wake of a European plan to study whether seal hunting practices are humane, Canada is preparing its response to international pressure on another animal rights issue, with plans that a government-sponsored group calls "a model for the world."

Even some animal rights activists are voicing their support for the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards, which provincial and territorial legislators across Canada hope to have in place later this year.

The standards -- described as "historic" and "unique" by Rob Cahill, executive director of the Fur Institute of Canada -- are in response to protests that began in the 1980s about how Canada and other countries were hunting and trapping wild animals.

"There is no other international treaty anywhere that regulates a human harvesting practice," said Cahill, whose non-profit organization was established by the federal government in 1983 to research and provide advice on the fur industry.

The genesis of the agreement goes back almost 20 years to when European nations endorsed a declaration banning the use of leghold traps, and warned other countries it was banning the import of fur from any nation that allowed their use.

Canada began negotiating to have its fur allowed in Europe and made the case that if new standards were adopted, they would need to be far more extensive than just covering one kind of trap, Cahill said.

The regulations would cover several kinds of traps and for Canada, it would affect the hunting of badgers, beavers, bobcats, coyotes, fishers, lynxes, martens, muskrats, otters, raccoons, weasels and wolves.

In 1997, Canada, Russia, the United States and the European Union agreed to develop the more humane trapping standards and two years later, Canada and the EU agreed to an eight-year target date to implement the new regulations.

While European countries were pointing an accusatory finger at Canada before, they're now struggling to match the standards being imposed on them, Cahill said, adding that Europe is only hoping to implement the agreement in 2012.

"We have done a tremendous amount more than anyone else in the world; in fact, Europe has done virtually zero," Cahill said. "The Europeans who are crying about the international community not being humane enough have done virtually nothing."

Cahill said 95 per cent of the animals trapped in Europe are captured for pest control reasons, which EU countries have been hesitant to regulate. They wanted one set of standards for animals killed for fur, and another set for their own reasons, Cahill said.

"(The new agreement) creates a level playing field so for any reason you're trapping an animal, you should be using traps that are scientifically tested and certified," he said.

"It's groundbreaking and we believe it's a tremendous step forward in animal welfare for trapping animals for any reason."

Some animal rights groups, like the Vancouver-based Fur-Bearer Defenders, are far from happy with the agreement and call it "just a PR campaign to make trapping seem like it's become more humane."

"I would say that making slight, minor changes to the 300-year-old leghold trap -- and touting it as the best, humane trapping standards in the world -- is still less than desirable," said spokeswoman Julia Waring.

"The only good thing that's happened over the last 25 years is people have learned about the cruelty involved in trapping and fur, and the number of traps has come down."

The Canadian Association for Humane Trapping is supporting the agreement and anything else "that advances the whole area of humaneness in trapping," said spokesman Jim Bandow.

The group is concerned that some species were left out of the agreement -- such as foxes and minxes -- and has some doubts about how well the regulations will be monitored and enforced.

Still, Bandow acknowledged that Canada is a world leader when it comes to fur-trapping technology and regulations.

"Trapping in this country goes back historically -- this is what the country started with -- so it's not going to disappear, as much as people would like it to."

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