Int'l vigils mark anniversary of sled dog cull
The horrific slaughter of 100 sled dogs following the 2010 Winter Olympics will be remembered Saturday night by animal lovers in almost 40 cities worldwide.
The dozens of grassroots vigils, with locations spanning from Sweden to South Africa, sprouted from a single Facebook event created by North Vancouver social worker Crystal Arber and two co-organizers.
Arber says she's both surprised and touched by the outpouring of national and international support her event has drawn, and will be using the attention to spotlight limitations in Canada's current cruelty laws.
"We are going to honour the dogs, give the 100 dogs a voice because the details of their death are just so horrific," she said. "We're also going to make this the landing pad for Bill C229."
Critics, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, have blasted Canada for falling behind other countries in the protection of wild, stray and domesticated animals. Private member's Bill C229, introduced by Liberal MP Mark Holland, would increase penalties for cruelty, close loopholes that make prosecuting offenses difficult and define animals as sentient beings.
"Animals feel, they know what pain is, they have moods and emotions. You can't just kick them across the room," Arber said.
Animals are currently defined solely as property, and willful intent must be proven in animal abuse cases – which critics claim makes prosecution challenging, and often impossible.
Earlier this month, B.C. Premier Christy Clark pledged to introduce the toughest cruelty laws in the country in response to the grisly sled dog cull in Whistler.
News that the animals had been shot or suffocated on April 21 and 23, 2010, then buried in mass graves spurred public outcry, an ongoing investigation by the SPCA and a review of the sled dog industry.
Clark said the province would increase B.C.'s cruelty penalties to a maximum $75,000 fine and up to 24 months in jail. Currently, the maximum fine is $10,000 and six months in prison.
North Vancouver's vigil, held one-year after the cull, will be attended by NDP candidate Libby Davis, Liberal candidate Taleeb Noormohamed and Green Party candidate Greg Dowman, as well as mayor Darrell Mussatto.
Arber says Mussatto will be declaring April 23 an official memorial for the sled dogs, and there has been talk about declaring it Animal Abuse Prevention Day at the provincial level.
"We really can make a difference," Arber said. "We know who our MP is, we know how to draw attention to things we're unhappy with, and all of us have come together to make change."
For more information on the events, visit the vigil's Facebook page.