Hunting and trapping are regulated by the provincial and territorial governments through licences, quotas, harvest seasons, and export permits. No furbearing species trapped in Canada is endangered. After more than three centuries of commercial harvesting and many more centuries of subsistence harvesting, Canada's fur-bearer populations have, in general, remained stable; in some cases they have increased.
The federal government has made trapper education and the development of more humane trapping systems its chief defence against the anti-fur campaign. In 1973, in response to pressure from animal welfare organizations, the Federal Provincial Committee on Humane Trapping (FPCHT) was established to conduct the world's first scientific research on the stress suffered by animals in traps. The Fur Institute of Canada (FIC), an organization that represents the provincial and territorial governments, the fur industry, some aboriginal groups, and trappers' associations, has continued the work of the FPCHT on standards for traps for various species of fur bearers. The FIC is expected to spend about $1.5 million (most of it from the Department of the Environment) on humane trap research between 1984 and 1987.
Canada's work on trap standards and trapper education is unique in the world, but these efforts have not satisfied the anti-fur lobby. Animal welfare groups criticized the slow progress of the FPCHT and felt that the results did not warrant the $1 million it spent on research. The FIC also has been criticized for its slow progress on standards.
In 1983, Cabinet established the Interdepartmental Steering Committee on Humane Trapping (ISCHT) to coordinate the activities of federal departments on research and trapper education programmes. The ISCHT has lacked leadership and direction, and has wasted time on struggles over jurisdiction. The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) recently made a move to become the lead department in domestic activities concerning the anti-fur campaign. DIAND has allocated $1.2 million for trapper education; a portion of the funds DIAND contributes to aboriginal peoples' organizations is intended to support trapper education. The Department of External Affairs has jealously guarded its lead role in international activities concerning the fur trade. In "Defence of the Fur Trade," a discussion paper prepared in May 1985, the department states that its objective has been:
To provide a breathing space by maintaining market receptiveness pending development and general adoption of more humane and publicly acceptable trapping methods.
On paper, External recognizes that there is a need for government action on this issue on two levels: first, in the public domain by defending consumer demand for furs and Canada's reputation in regulation of the industry and protection of the resource: and second, at the public policy level by offsetting the influence of lobbying and mass-mail campaigns on legislators and international organizations that could result in local barriers to international trade. In fact, External has responded just as it responded to the anti-sealing campaign: it reacts only when necessary and avoids raising the profile of the issue.
The profile of the issue is already high, both internationally and in Canada. In 1984, the European Parliament considered a resolution to ban sales of fur products in EEC nations, to end trapping in EEC nations, and to press non-EEC nations to eliminate the fur trade. The resolution was withdrawn under pressure from fur ranchers within the EEC, who feared that their own markets would be destroyed. Had the resolution come to a vote, it would likely have been very close.
In 1983, in Botswana, parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fanna (CITES) considered a resolution calling for a ban on the trade of furs caught in leg-hold traps (most furs obtained in the wild are taken in leghold traps). The resolution failed because it was ruled ultra vires (beyond the scope of CITES' authority). The mandate of CITES is to protect endangered species by monitoring and regulating traffic in wildlife at the international level. Native groups, the Canadian government, and others at the meeting argued successfully that the issue has nothing to do with endangered species. The 1985 CITES meeting in Buenos Aires rejected a similar resolution on the same grounds.
There is increasing evidence that the focus of the anti-fur campaign is shifting from humane methods of trapping to ending the fur trade. At the upcoming CITES meeting in 1987, there is likely to be a stronger campaign to end trade in furs. This spring, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is expected to consider supporting a ban on trapping.
This shift in focus is even more evident in statements of animal rights groups. In the animal-rights newsletter Animal Agenda, Vicki Miller, a member of the Montreal-based animal rights group ARK 11, described the widening gap between animal rights groups and native trappers:
I think we are so far apart in our philosophies that there isn't any need to get together on this point. We aren't interested in a more humane trap. We're interested in abolishing this industry altogether.