By Peter Fricker
The Vancouver Sun
May 22, 2012
Vancouver Canucks player David Booth recently stirred up some off-ice controversy when he killed a black bear in Alberta and used Twitter to post photographs and video of the kill.
What has angered many people is Booth’s use of bait (a barrel of oats and molasses) to lure the bear into the range of his cross-bow before shooting it. Bear baiting is illegal in B.C. and a number of U.S. states, but is still legal in Alberta.
In addition to the baiting issue, Booth’s actions have ignited a debate about trophy hunting. His tweets boasted about the size of the bear’s skull, which he had measured at 21 inches. This was clearly not about hunting for food.
While animal rights advocates and hunters are unlikely to ever agree on what constitutes the ethical killing of an animal, this case has outraged even some in the hunting community.
And so it should. The principle of “fair chase” supposedly observed by hunters who consider themselves ethical, requires the hunt to take place “in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage” over the animal.
It’s difficult to see how baiting could ever conform to this principle. Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (not exactly a tree-hugger) described bear baiting this way: “Going out there and putting jelly doughnuts down, and Yogi comes up and sits there and thinks he’s found the motherlode for five days in a row — and then you back-shoot him from a tree? … That ain’t sport — that’s an assassination.”
It is even more difficult to find a moral justification for trophy hunting — the killing of an animal to satisfy human vanity. There is a moral difference between killing for food and killing for pleasure. While an ethical vegetarian might argue that both are unnecessary, the latter plumbs the depths of immoral human behaviour through its selfishness, trivializing of nature and disregard for life.
Some might ask, why single out David Booth when others engage in the same practices? For one thing, Booth deliberately drew attention to his actions through social media. (The video he posted of the bear kill is part of a cable television hunting program, suggesting this is all about a rather cynical PR exercise.)
Secondly, Booth, as a professional hockey player, is a public figure — one who has made no secret of his predilection for killing wildlife.
Take, for example, his comment to Muscle & Body magazine on alligator hunting: “I’m strictly a bow hunter, so you have to stick the alligator with an arrow with a line attached to it, then reel it into the boat. Then you shoot the alligator in the head with a gun.”
Not only are NHL players public figures, they are also role models. Kids look up to them as heroes. Is David Booth’s attitude toward wildlife one that most parents would want their kids to emulate?
Contrast Booth’s actions with those of another hockey star, former NHLer Scott Niedermayer.
Niedermayer recently lent his support to the campaign to save the Great Bear Rainforest, speaking out about the need to protect grizzly bear habitat.
“It’s tremendously important to me to be a Canadian for the Great Bear,” he told media.
“The amazing places we have in our country are part of what it means to be Canadian.”
That’s how celebrity can be a force for good. That’s how real heroes set an example, not just for kids, but for all of us.
David Booth is a self-professed, devout Christian — a fact he has also brought into the public realm through interviews with the media.
He no doubt sincerely believes that his bear-baiting trophy hunt is not at odds with the Christian values of mercy, kindness and respect for Creation. Perhaps some genuine soul-searching would tell him otherwise.