Fighting to end foreign fur imports

Cats and dogs from overseas could have an impact on the upcoming federal election.

Two months ago, departing Burnaby-Douglas NDP MP Bill Siksay introduced a private member’s bill that would prohibit the sale and import of products made from cat or dog fur and would require labels on all animal skins identifying the types of fur fibers used so that consumers don’t unwittingly contribute to the cat and dog fur trade.

The bill is now off the table because of the May 2 federal election, and there are no immediate plans for Canada to join the United States, Australia and the European Union in banning cat and dog skin products.

“The sale and import of cat and dog fur is still legal in Canada and there are products that use a certain amount of undeclared dog or cat fur,” said Siksay, who is leaving federal politics but said he hopes the issue will once again be addressed in Parliament. “The sale and import of dog and cat fur in Canada has to end.”

Lesley Fox, executive director of the Burnaby-based Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, says this is an important issue for candidates to address.

Lesley Fox, executive director of the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, sits at her office with products imported from overseas that use the hides of cats and dogs. (Larry Wright photo)

“It’s so ridiculous, we thought this campaign was going to be a slam dunk,” said Fox “We are one of the few countries left that doesn’t have any (laws) when it comes to fur. In Canada, it’s under the textile labelling act, and fur is exempt from that. What it basically means is, if you have a sweater made out of cotton, you have to label it, if you have a sweater made out of fur, you don’t”

Fox said around two million animals are killed, primarily in China, Taiwan and the Philippines, for their skins each year, and that the fur ends up in imported products such as keychains, shoes, purses, cellphone cases, the lining of winter coats and, ironically, even cat toys.

She puts the lack of legislation to change this squarely on the Conservatives.

“The Conservative government doesn’t want to ban dog and cat fur basically because they want to keep open trade with China,” said Fox. “It all goes back to the seal hunt, which is the biggest bone of contention in the government today. The EU basically told Canada ‘we don’t want your seal skins’ so we kind of shopped around and now China is the new dumping ground for Canada’s seal skins. But because they’re taking our seal skins, we can’t tell China we won’t take their dog and cat fur. So you’re leveraging the suffering of one species for another.”

Although the Liberals never addressed the problem when they were in office either, Fox said the evidence of products being made from cats and dogs wasn’t as overwhelming then as it has become over the past few years.

Siksay, however, sidestepped the question when asked if he thought the reason Canada has yet to adopt new legislation was out of fear of offending a major trade partner, saying that there is no common consensus among Canadians about the rights of animals.

“I think there is a real divergence of opinion across Canada about animal welfare issues,” he said. “There’s sometimes an urban/rural split, but even though there are different opinions, it doesn’t mean we don’t have the debate.”

Kennedy Stewart, the NDP’s new candidate in Siksay’s riding, said he hopes the issue will soon be on the table again. “It’s not really one of the main issues a lot of people are talking about. However, it does get raised a lot, and I know Bill got a lot of kudos for bringing this up. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference. We really hope it will make it through the next session.”

The Conservative party’s candidate for Burnaby-Douglas, Ronald Leung, did not respond to a request from the Burnaby NOW for an interview on the subject.

(This story was first published April 20, 2011. © Copyright (c) Burnaby Now)
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