There is no place for racism when it comes to preventing cruelty to animals

Vancouver Sun
Peter Fricker
January 13, 2014

Any animal lover who has seen photos or videos of caged dogs being sold for meat in Chinese or Korean markets will know the rage that such images provoke. And in any discussion about the issue you will often hear that rage expressed in attacks on the cultures of those countries and, too often, in outright racism toward Asians.

It’s common, for example, to see racist posts on social media in response to news stories about incidents of inhumane treatment of animals in Asia. While the anger is understandable, the racist hatred is not and it discredits the compassionate values that underpin the animal rights movement.

There is certainly nothing wrong with criticizing or condemning a country for its policies or cultural activities that cause animal suffering. But to condemn an entire race or to allow anger to turn to hate is not only wrong, it does nothing to address the issues. It’s also hypocritical, as no nation or race is without examples of animal cruelty. Canada, with its factory farms, trophy hunting, seal clubbing, fur industry, rodeos and circuses is no paragon of animal rights virtue.

Aside from being offensive, tarring a race with animal cruelty is just nonsensical. Here in Vancouver, a number of Asian Canadians are at the forefront of the animal protection movement.

Claudia Li founded Shark Truth, which has been fighting for a ban on shark fin soup.

Wilson Wong, a student at the University of B.C., leads UBC Activists for Animals, a group dedicated to reducing animal suffering.

Joanne Chang, after serving on the boards of Liberation BC and the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) and organizing countless events on behalf of animals, co-founded Vancouver’s first vegan shoe store, Nice Shoes.

At VHS, some of our most effective volunteers and most generous funders have been Asian Canadians. One, Jamie Lee, has funded our transit advertising campaigns encouraging people to adopt (not buy) pets and to question the morality of eating meat.

Former B.C. resident Ashley Fruno, the senior campaigner for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment Animals) Asia Pacific is someone on the front lines of animal welfare in Asia. Fruno sees Asian markets where chickens have their throats slit while fully conscious and where fish have their scales scraped off while alive and flailing.

But when asked about her experiences, she maintains a balanced perspective: “To be blunt, I see cruelty in every country, but I see more ignorance in Canada than I do in China. People in China know how the animals they consumed are killed, because its likely that animal was killed in front of them. Most people in Canada have no idea what the animal that ended up on their plate went through before that. They don’t want to know, and they don’t usually care to find out.”

This doesn’t excuse the fact that China and other Asian countries have extremely poor animal welfare records, but there is an embryonic animal protection movement in Asia and some progress has been made. For example, China has banned animal performances and live feeding in zoos. Plans for a giant rodeo in Beijing in 2011 were cancelled after 71 Chinese animal welfare groups protested. And local animal activists are fighting the practice of eating dogs and have rescued truckloads of dogs headed for slaughter.

The best way to advance such progress is by continuing to support animal groups at home and abroad that are working to change hearts, minds, cultures and policies in favour of animal welfare. Another is to practice what we preach.

As Fruno says: “We will only succeed in this movement if we can live our lives with the same compassion and kindness that we wish to see in the world.” Fruno has seen it all, yet she never allows anger to get in the way of her work or hatred to poison her attitude: “In a movement that serves to promote compassion, it makes no sense to develop hatred towards anyone, especially those we are supposed to be teaching kindness to.”