The Star Online
June 23, 2011
On April 13, 1934, the British House of Commons was debating the Protection of Animals Bill. One MP, a Lieutenant-Colonel Moore, stood up and said: “Members witnessed that exhibition and saw those broken legs, broken backs, broken necks, bleeding nostrils and bleeding eyes, and the frightened eyes looking out through the blood. That is not the sort of sport for the British people.”
The “sport” was an American rodeo, which had performed in London 10 years earlier. The event so outraged the public that Parliament was determined not to allow a second rodeo into the country. The bill was passed and rodeo has been banned in Britain ever since. Despite this clear expression of British disgust with rodeo, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are scheduled to attend the opening of the Calgary Stampede, Canada’s famously controversial rodeo in which more than 80 animals have died since 1986.
In addition to agreeing to celebrate an activity that is illegal in their native country, the royal couple will be endorsing an event condemned by mainstream animal welfare agencies throughout the Commonwealth and developed world. Britain’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is opposed to rodeo, as are the national SPCAs of Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Virtually every animal welfare agency in Canada opposes rodeo, including the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.
Last year, British parliamentarians again expressed their revulsion toward rodeo through a parliamentary motion calling “on the Canadian government to take steps to end the immense cruelty to animals in events such as calf roping, which is practised at rodeos including the Calgary Stampede.” The motion, which has been signed by more than 90 MPs, applauded the campaign by the Vancouver Humane Society to have calf-roping banned at the Stampede.
The League Against Cruel Sports, one of Britain’s oldest and most respected animal welfare charities, joined the campaign against the Stampede rodeo last year, advising U.K. travel agencies to boycott the event and urging its supporters to complain to the Canadian High Commission. Yet, for whatever reason, the royal couple’s advisers have failed to notice or chosen to ignore the legal position of Britain’s Parliament, the stated views of a significant number of its current MPs and the opinions of animal welfare organizations in Canada and throughout the world. Prince William might wish to remember that it was his great-great grandfather, George V, who signed the British ban on rodeos into law.
Defenders of the royal visit to the Stampede will argue that the Duke and Duchess are being afforded an opportunity to see some genuine Canadian culture and heritage. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Even a cursory examination of the historical record shows that the Stampede is a piece of transplanted American mythology rooted in vaudevillian Wild West shows, hype and clever marketing. It has little to do with real ranch practice, historical or modern. The real cowboys of the old west never rode bulls, raced chuckwagons or wrestled steers.
Some will say there is no harm in plonking a couple of white Stetsons on the royals’ heads and letting them engage in the make believe that the Stampede calls history. The royal couple will just be used in another stale public relations exercise to draw tourists to the rodeo.
The real harm lies in rodeo’s brutalization of animals for the sake of human amusement and the notion, encouraged by a royal visit, that this is somehow normal and acceptable. Rodeo was not acceptable to Britain’s Parliament in 1934. Nor is it acceptable to international animal welfare agencies today. It should not be acceptable to anyone who opposes unnecessary animal suffering. Surely, that includes a young, progressive couple like William and Kate.
Canada has so much to be proud of, yet we are inviting our royal guests to sanction something many Canadians find shameful. Had the Duke and Duchess followed the moral guidance of the British Parliament, they would have politely declined the invitation.