Tie-down roping and steer wrestling will be part of the rodeo at the Chilliwack Fair next weekend but it might just be the last year.
In response to a campaign by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) to ban what the activist group calls “inhumane” events, the Chilliwack Fair Board of Directors agreed to meet to decide whether these rodeo practices can be modified for 2018 or if they should be cancelled altogether.
And cancellation of those events means Chilliwack can’t have a sanctioned rodeo.
“We care deeply about our animals,” said Cathy Oss, President of the Chilliwack Agricultural Society. “Animal health and safety remain our highest priorities and, as such, we will review the events of the rodeo to ensure that as we move forward those priorities are fulfilled.”
Oss’s statement came in a July 31 press release following a letter on the same day sent to VHS executive director Debra Probert. In that letter, Oss thanked the VHS for its concern and confirms the Fair has heard from VHS supporters.
On July 26 the VHS launched its online campaign urging supporters to contact the mayor and council and the Chilliwack Fair, and to “politely email the sponsors of the Chilliwack Fair … and ask them not to support the rodeo.”
It was the latter request that spurred the Fair’s board to act, Oss told The Progress Tuesday.
“All of us support the event 100 per cent,” Oss said, adding that 99.9 per cent of the letters of opposition came from outside of Chilliwack.
“It’s because of our sponsors who are expressing concern. The sad thing for us, is the sponsors for the most part aren’t rodeo sponsors. They are sponsoring the entertainment or home and garden or 4H. But they are receiving multiple letters saying ‘don’t sponsor the Fair or we will boycott your business.’
“If you are a business owner, it does concern you.”
In the July 26 VHS press release, spokesperson Peter Fricker said the two events tormented animals for crowd amusement, something that should be unacceptable in this day and age.
“Terrified calves, only three months old, are chased, roped to a sudden halt, picked up and thrown to the ground before being tied up and steers have their necks twisted until the are literally bent to the ground,” Fricker said.
The VHS campaign against the Chilliwack Fair’s rodeo comes as the animal rights group has been pushing for such bans for more than a decade. Under pressure after a steer’s death in the steer-wrestling event in 2004, the Cloverdale Rodeo was under pressure and cancelled all such events as of 2007. Prior to that the City of Vancouver prohibited rodeo events in the city at the request of the VHS.
Oss said a campaign like this against the rodeo is new in Chilliwack. There was someone taking photos for the VHS last year, clearly, and in previous years they have phoned, but she said it’s been a few years since they’ve seen a protest.
In her reply to the VHS, Oss said that since the event is only 10 days away (Aug. 11-13), contracts have been signed and it was too late to cancel. Oss added that while she herself is not a rodeo person, all on the board love animals.
“All of us on the board, we all have animals in mind,” she said. “I grew up on a farm. We are all farm people, we are all animal people. Nobody wants to see any kind of harm done to any of these animals. They are all extremely well looked after.”
Still, the Fair board will research to see if changes can be made, but since the B.C. Rodeo Association oversees such events, likely little can be done by the Chilliwack Fair to alter events. And if tie-down roping and steer wrestling are removed as events, the Fair can’t have a sanctioned rodeo.
The VHS welcomed the response from the Chilliwack Fair to look at the two events for the future.
“We are pleased that the Chilliwack Fair has listened to our concerns and the concerns of many people who object to these inhumane events,” Fricker said in a follow-up press release on July 31. “We urge the Fair’s board to cancel these events when it votes on this matter in September. It would be a major step forward in the evolution of rodeo toward a more acceptable form of entertainment.”
Fricker said VHS remains opposed to rodeo in principle but welcomes the Chilliwack Fair’s willingness to at least address concerns over these highly controversial events.