10/01/2014 03:25 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST

Fur Institute Of Canada Lobbied Tories Over RCMP Muskrat Hats Decision


OTTAWA - A national fur organization says it raised objections with federal cabinet ministers upon learning the RCMP planned to begin outfitting officers with tuques instead of muskrat hats.

The Fur Institute of Canada made its concerns known to the environment and public safety ministers after seeing a recent media report about the move, said Glen Doucet, the group's executive director.

"Many of our members phoned in to government MPs and folks directly," Doucet said Wednesday.

"We raised our concerns, but I think the government was already there. We didn't have to do much — they got it."

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Tuesday the government was ordering the Mounties to keep wearing the customary winter head coverings.

In a news release Wednesday, the institute echoed the Conservative stance on the issue, saying it was pleased that the government refused to be "compromised by radical animal rights activists whose efforts and campaigns of misinformation only serve to hurt the livelihoods of Canadians in rural and remote communities."

Doucet said the federal government recognized the RCMP's history is so closely linked to the fur trade that replacing the traditional hats with tuques would send a devastating message to trappers and commercial markets.

"The history of Canada was built on the fur trade and many Canadians are still involved in it."

Standards dictate that a trap must render 80 per cent of animals tested irreversibly unconscious within a maximum of 300 seconds, the institute says.

The Vancouver-based Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals had encouraged the Mounties to find a replacement for the muskrat hat, saying the body-gripping traps leave the animals exposed while alive to numerous hazards — including predators and the elements.

The RCMP wrote to the animal-rights group last summer to say it had tested a tuque that works well in normal winter conditions, and that it would supply the new hat to cadets. Though the Mounties planned to continue issuing muskrat hats to personnel working in extreme cold, the overall result would be a "significant reduction" in fur headgear.

"We have listened to the views of external interested parties and of our employees," wrote RCMP Corps Sgt. Major Darren Campbell in the Aug. 8 letter.

Protection association spokesman Michael Howie expressed disgust with Aglukkaq's intervention. "What the minister came out and did is clearly vote-pandering to a dwindling industry."

He likened abandoning fur trapping to recognizing other historical wrongs such as interning Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War and the abuse of aboriginal students at residential schools.

"To say that evolving as a community is somehow disrespectful to our past is disturbing," he said. "This heritage argument has to end."

The majority of the close to 70,000 trappers in Canada harvest muskrat, and the animal is commonly sought by aboriginal trappers for food and bait as well as the pelt, Doucet said.

Muskrats reproduce at a prodigious rate and would cause problems if not culled regularly, Doucet added, touting his industry's sustainable approach.

"These animals are abundant and plentiful in our environment and need to be trapped to protect our ecosystems, let alone for the fur trade."

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