Wednesday, April 17, 2013

1996-05-04 What warriors preparing for battle must have gone through

May 4, 1996, Sat.

I am within one month from embarking upon what promises to be the journey of my life, and, frankly, I am filled with a sense of foreboding and trepidation. At best, I will encounter harassment from opponents at every turn. At worst, I could lose my life and that of my assistant – 25 year-old Erica Denison.

And who are these dreaded opponents? They are those humans whose main pursuit in life is to kill magnificent wild creatures of other species for entertainment and ego gratification – trophy hunters, of the “Great White Hunter” tradition, a la Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. And the species of wild creatures in question here in BC? Bears – Grizzlies and Blacks.

The idea of this anti-hunting expedition emerged in my mind less than two months ago. On April 11, in a media conference hosted by the British Columbia provincial government at the Vancouver Public Aquarium, environment minister Moe Sihota announced a set of changes in the so-called Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy. With high hope in our hearts, my colleague National Campaign Director Joe Foy and I went to attend the conference. Our hope was based on the result of the 1995 Angus Reed poll, commissioned by the conservation group Bear Watch, where over 80% of the respondents said they would support a ban of bear hunting in the province. As it turned out, it was a great disappointment. Not only was bear hunting still condoned, it continued to be actively promoted. The nice-sounding term “limited entry hunt” was project to the public, which in fact would not necessarily reduce on the number of Grizzly bears killed, but would prohibit non-hunters from purchasing hunting licenses and permits intended not to be used such that a number of bear lives be spared.

After the minister’s presentation and Q&A, the media converged upon Joe and me for comment, during which Joe used a phrase that stuck in my mind – “barbaric practice” – to describe the “sport” of trophy hunting.

Days later, I came upon the government provision, available only in the province of British Columbia, called the Recall and Initiative Act. The brain storm was inevitable: if we could use the Act to force a province-wide referendum on the issue of bear hunting, we'd stand a good chance of winning. I took the idea to Paul, Adriane and Joe.

The first step according to the Act, I explained, was to perform an Initiative Petition, which requires the certified signatures from at least 10% of the registered voters in each and every one of the 75 electoral districts within the province, some bigger in area than some small countries, and all have to be collected within a mutually-agreed-upon 90-day period, by “registered volunteer-canvassers”. Only succeeding in this petition could the Referendum Vote proceed. To promote the principle of the project, recruit volunteers, organize the petition, and especially generate local media, someone would have to visit each and every one of the 75 electoral districts throughout the province, in person. I proposed to do it myself.

Not that I was unaware of the risk, but it was only after the proposal had been accepted by E-Team after a few days did it hit me with full force. I would be like a lamb walking into the midst of wolves – those humans who indulge in killing for pleasure - with apologies to wolves who kill only out of need. Since no one I knew of had ever pitted himself or herself against hunters in a full-scale confrontation, their reaction was uncertain, although the chance of physical violence along the way would be substantial. This I was willing to face, but what about Erica? Environmentalists had been hurt and even killed by opponents before. Could I take on the responsibility for her safety?

Erica is a sweet-faced, head strong and energetic woman. She first gained my attention by being a volunteer for my BET’R Campaign. When the expedition was decided upon, and the need of an assistant announced, Erica applied, and at my urging, the E-Team accepted her for the job.

She approached the danger aspect of the expedition with an almost disturbing degree of equanimity, to the point where I began to think that she was making light of the whole situation. But when we finally discussed it, she revealed a deeper layer of herself, where the fear was present, but well managed. She said that she could take care of herself.

She added that she fears more for my safety than her own, on account of my race. The concern was real, considering the presence of US-implanted White Supremacists en route, who would most likely also be hunters. I countered with the factor of her gender.

My apprehension comes and goes. At times, in the middle of the night when one is supposed to be at ones weakest, frightening scenarios would play themselves out in my mind, seemingly with lives of their own, not the least of all is what could happen to Erica.

On her part, with her enthusiastic and efficient though at times insubordinate assistance, the preparation for the Bear Referendum road tour progressed from fits-and-starts to leaps-and-bounds. She has already set up meetings and presentations at Campbell River, Cortes Island, Nanaimo, Victoria, Comox, Port Alberni, Gold River, Salt Spring Island, Pender Harbour - the Vancouver Island cities - for starters. This was done in chronological order according to the itinerary that I have determined.

Now, with only two weeks to kick off, we worked right through the long weekend. Even last night, at 1:30 a.m., I coached Erica on the phone to work with Excel, when she was still in the office, all by herself, which, in that part of the city, took some courage unto itself. Of all her attributes, what impressed me most was not her seeming lack of fear, but her determination in the face of it.

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