Chill, Calgarians, rodeo critics aren’t mad at you


Chill, Calgarians, rodeo critics aren’t mad at you

The Province (also published in Calgary Herald July 2)

July 4, 2013


The Vancouver Humane Society’s annual campaign concerning the Calgary Stampede elicits some interesting comments in emails and letters from Calgarians. A staff favourite is: “Leave it alone, you self-righteous, tree-humping, granola-swilling, flannel-wearing, jack-ass hippies.”

Many take great exception to the idea that an organization based in Vancouver (or, as some correspondents prefer, “The Left Coast” or “Lotus Land”) has the temerity to express opinions on an event taking place in Calgary. Vancouverites’ alleged rampant use of cannabis and overconsumption of lattes feature heavily in these missives.

A few writers include angry instructions that we should clean up Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, address B.C.’s drug problems, save the unborn or solve homelessness before addressing any animal-welfare issues at rodeos. (For the record, we are an animal-welfare charity.)

But the most common piece of advice Calgarians and other Albertans offer us is simply to: “Mind your own backyard!” Indeed, this sentiment has taken root in some of Calgary’s media. One newspaper front page famously ran the headline, “Take care of your own animals!” over a photo of some of Vancouver’s Stanley Cup rioters. (This hangs on the wall in the Vancouver Humane Society office.)

Of course, a Vancouver-versus-Calgary narrative spices up the rodeo controversy quite nicely, as does West Coast versus Alberta, or latte-sipping urbanites versus hard-working ranchers, etc. There’s even a bit of truth underlying the hyping and stereotyping of cultural differences. Vancouver city council did, after all, vote to ban rodeos effectively in 2006. And the Cloverdale Rodeo in Surrey did drop all its roping events in 2007, making it arguably the least inhumane rodeo in North America.

But for people concerned about animal suffering, all this is something of a sideshow, if not completely irrelevant. The Vancouver Humane Society focuses on the stampede, not because it’s in Calgary, but because it’s Canada’s most well-known and influential rodeo. Any improvements to animal welfare gained there will likely be replicated in rodeos throughout the country. What matters is not the source of the arguments against rodeo, but their validity. It’s self-evident that a calf being roped in a rodeo will experience pain and fear. To subject an animal to such suffering for mere entertainment is simply immoral.

If some choose to disagree with this position, fine, but to say that someone outside Calgary has no right to criticize the Stampede is undemocratic and un-Canadian.

It’s worth remembering that the stampede is marketed around the world as a national event representing Canadian values. Wherever they live, Canadians have the right to object to what they believe is a spectacle of animal cruelty being sold as an example of their culture. Animal welfare is everyone’s business. So is the right to dissent.

And no one should doubt that there are rodeo opponents in Calgary itself. About 35 per cent of the correspondence the Vancouver Humane Society receives from the Calgary area supports our campaign. That’s a significant minority, considering the monolithic cultural presence of the stampede, its substantial marketing power and its regional media support.

The number of people taking part in local anti-rodeo demonstrations has grown in recent years, which is remarkable considering the peer pressure to put on a cowboy hat, yell “yahoo” and support the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” without reservation.

The fact that other Canadians in other provinces care about animal welfare at rodeos should not be seen as any kind of insult to Calgary. These kinds of issues attract diverse opinions almost everywhere they emerge. Rodeo-loving Calgarians, like other Canadians, have the right to challenge critics or simply ignore them.

We respect that right. But please, dear rodeo fans, when you send mail to the Vancouver Humane Society office at Stampede time, it would be nice to get some letters that focused on the issues instead of our pinko tendencies, metrosexual habits and addiction to B.C. Bud. We promise to reply promptly. Right after yoga class.