Fur harvesters in the Northwest Territories were happy to see a decision by RCMP to trade in their muskrat fur hats for tuques overturned by the federal government last week, but say the attempt to add more negative publicity to their trade still stings.
The RCMP told animal rights group The Humane Society in August they would be phasing out the traditional fur Mountie hat this winter, until federal ministers swooped in and reversed the move last week.
For Francois Rossouw, who manages the Genuine Mackenzie Valley Fur program for the territorial government, the move by RCMP not only “made no sense,” but could have had a negative impact on the rebounding traditional economy in the NWT.
“Any time there’s one less user of fur, it’s going to impact (trappers). I’m actually taken aback that the RCMP would even consider it,” he said. “Why can’t you have both? If you so badly want a tuque, get a tuque, but also as their official uniform in the winter, it should be a fur hat.”
An average of 11,000 muskrat pelts has come out of the NWT each year for the last two decades, selling across Canada and internationally. Rossouw said demand for muskrat is strong and steady, and earnings for trappers at $10 per skin are much higher than they used to be.
While no one knows how many muskrat pelts go directly to the RCMP’s hats, Rossouw said the change would have sent the wrong message to Canada’s trappers.
“It’s sort of a moral thing,” he said. “It’s an iconic symbol for Canada. So I think the impact is one of those visual things.”
Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya, who said some of the best furs in Canada come from Colville Lake in his jurisdiction, was glad to hear the fur industry dodged a bullet.
“(It’s) good to know the government defends the trappers by not allowing the animal rights groups to have their way,” he told The Journal. “This would be a damaging blow for all trappers across Canada and the North if the decision was not overturned by the federal government.”
The decision to reverse the move came last Tuesday in the House of Commons, when Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said that the federal government “will always stand up for Canada’s hunters and trappers.”
“I would like to assure Canadians that the minister of public safety has taken actions to ensure that the historic fur winter hats worn by the RCMP will not be discontinued, despite the efforts of radical animal rights activists,” she said during question period.
Humane Society spokesperson Gabriel Wildgen issued a statement calling the federal decision an “affront” to members of the public and RCMP who want the change.
“Politicians should not capitalize on this issue to score points with special interests in the fur industry,” he said.