10 min read

Why Do These Police Have Fur In Their Uniforms?

Muskrats and the rot emanating from Ottawa

Most readers of this blog are not Canadian. Thus, most are not aware of Canadian government scandals.

But, just recently, a small rodent who performs a valuable ecological service has unwittingly called attention to the contention so often heard from federal government: that Canada's national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), is independent of government influence.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper-the most secretive, autocratic, and controlling prime minister I can remember-has certainly made enough questionable moves, such as trying to replace the independent National Press Gallery with a government run media center; the so-called "In and Out Scandal" that alleged circumvention of 2006 election financial rules; the Afghan detainee scandal of 2010; and the list goes on and on, with the current Canadian Senate Expenses Scandal (under investigation by the RCMP) being perhaps the most serious.

I won't go into a Democracy 101 discussion of why it is important to separate the national police force from government control. I also don't want to take up space explaining how Canada's electoral system allows for the fact that the majority of Canadians did not vote for Mr. Harper or his party, which won just 39.62 percent of the vote in the last election.

And, muskrats? Well, the RCMP's ever-evolving uniforms (not just the famous red serge jacket and flat-brimmed Stetsons used for formal occasions, but more practical day-to-day work clothing) have long included a warm winter cap made from the fur of muskrats. The muskrats are caught in traps. If, 80 percent of the time, the animals take no more than five minutes to become "irretrievably unconscious," then the traps are deemed "humane" by international trapping standards. But, there is nothing "humane" about holding an animal under water until she suffocates. (They don't drown. Like many aquatic mammals, when held under water, they can't inhale, and they suffocate.) Indeed, what about the 200 out of every 1,000 who take even longer to die?

Recently, the RCMP announced a slight change in clothing. For most winter wear, they would switch to the more humanely produced wool toques: a type of familiar Canadian winter headgear, perhaps most popularized in Quebec-not out of concern about fur, but because they are so practical. (Though I don't wear wool, mine being made of cotton and synthetics, I wear a toque in winter because it is warm enough for day-to-day wear in sub-zero weather, but not uncomfortably warm.) The warmer fur cap (too warm on many a winter day) would be retained for truly cold winter weather, giving the police officers a choice.

But, that lasted about a nanosecond. Harper's government had a hissy-fit, led by the Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, who proudly announced that the government had ordered the RCMP to keep wearing the muskrat fur hats, whether they wanted to or not. The cops capitulated, thereby confirming who is really in charge.

Those of us who were pleased with the initial announcement were, as usual, called "radical" with "campaigns of misinformation." What misinformation? On a TV news show, Bill Davies, head of the Canadian National Trappers Alliance, told Michael Howie of the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals that what Howie considered "humane" would be quite different from what Davies considered to be humane. Exactly so. Most of us would not consider what happens to a muskrat, or to other non-target species in a trap set for muskrats, to be "humane."

But, that aside, Davies went on to point to the "waste" of tens of thousands of muskrats trapped and disposed of in Holland, their furs unused. What he didn't say was that the muskrat is not native to Europe, and that it got to Holland via the ecologically-destructive fur industry, when fur farms were set up overseas and muskrats inevitably escaped. And, he did not say that 20 to 27 percent of Holland is below sea level, and that about 50 percent is within one meter of sea level, and that it is thus protected by a massive network of dikes and sea gates. Muskrats can dig tunnels that threaten the dikes, all courtesy of the industry Davies defends.

But, the irony comes from what really threatens Holland, which would be rising sea levels and heightened intensity and number of storms, which scientists increasingly link to climate change. The Harper government (as it is called by most Canadians I know... not "our" government, or the "Canadian" government, so hostile it is to so many of our traditional Canadian values, including the democratic process) has gone so far as to cut funding of scientists studying climate change. No previous Canadian government has ever been more hostile to environmentalists than this one.

The Fur Institute of Canada also argued against RCMP officers making their own decisions, saying, "The history of Canada was built on the fur trade and many Canadians are still involved in it." Huh? What about the history of Canada being built on principles of choice? On August 8, RCMP Corps Sgt. Major Darren Campbell wrote, "We have listened to the views of external interested parties and of our employees." But then, this is a government that has consistently short-changed our war veterans, so why would it care what the RCMP wears-as long as there are votes from northern constituents to be had?

Make your voice heard. Express your support for the RCMP's original choice to provide the option of wearing a toque, and your outrage at its rapid capitulation to government pressure, by writing to the Minister in charge of the RCMP, the Honorable Steven Blaney. But, he's part of the government and may not care, so a better choice might be to write to the leader of the opposition, the Honorable Thomas Mulcair. He just might agree that the RCMP should be independent of the Prime Minister's office, and free to make its own choice.