Animal activists target Mounties' furry hats

 Randy Boswell

 CanWest News Service

 September 30, 2004

 Animal welfare activists are launching a cross-Canada media campaign today that accuses the RCMP of "promoting cruelty" by keeping muskrat hats as part of the police force's official winter uniform. The flap-eared fur cap is standard-issue equipment for each of the country's 18,000 RCMP officers, and muskrat pelts have been used as the main material in the headgear for 71 years. Though not as central to RCMP iconography as the world-famous stetson, the fur-capped look is part of a rich tradition of outfitting Mounties to work in Canada's harsh climes.

Fur-Bearer Defenders, a Vancouver-based organization opposed to trapping wild animals, is running a series of newspaper advertisements with a picture of a muskrat in a leg-hold trap and the caption: From Traps to RCMP Hats.
    "At least 4,500 muskrats are trapped and killed each year for the RCMP's winter uniform hat," the ad reads.
    "Let's get real: Alternative materials clearly exist. And everyone knows it."

Sergeant Jocelyn Mimeault, an RCMP spokesperson, said yesterday that the force recently completed tests on hats made from a synthetic alternative and concluded that the faux-fur caps are inferior to the muskrat ones. "The feedback received confirmed that the synthetic fur hat did not perform to the same level as the current RCMP winter hat. As a result of that, there will be no changes."

Sgt. Mimeault said that reviewing the manufacture of all uniform components is an "ongoing process" and that further testing could occur in the future. "The bottom line is we want to ensure our members have the best equipment to perform their duties," he said, noting that Mounties may be required to work in "extreme weather conditions" for long periods of time.

"The muskrat fur hat has been proven to best meet the RCMP operational requirements." George Clements, director of Fur-Bearer Defenders, said his group will continue pressing the RCMP to stop using fur hats while trying to raise a public outcry. "The very individuals that Canadians turn to for their protection from violence are themselves promoting cruelty," the group says, condemning in particular the use of "horrific, steel-jawed" leg-hold traps.

Sgt. Mimeault pointed out that the harvesting of muskrat fur is a legal activity in Canada. "The methods of doing so are regulated by the government of Canada and suppliers must be licensed by the government," he said.

Muskrats are brown rodents that live in marshes and along river banks and can weigh up to 1.8 kilograms. They are common in the Canadian and U.S. wilderness and are an important source of income for many trappers.

The muskrat hat was officially adopted in 1933 after material from a host of animals -- seal, sheep, otter, beaver, horse and bison -- was used for winter caps after the formation of the RCMP in 1874.