Countryside walkers in southern Ontario can be in for a surprising sight in October and November mornings. Hunters on horseback wearing traditional “ratcatcher” jackets or bright red pinque coats gather in the autumn months to participate in despicably cruel foxhunting.
Also known as “field hunting”, the practice involves participants on horseback following a group of hounds as they pursue another animal, typically a coyote or fox. Along the way, the dogs may also frighten, chase, or harm other local wildlife including groundhogs, porcupines, racoons, skunks, deer, or even black bears.
Foxhunting was imported to Canada from England, where it was banned in 2004. Since it is legal in several Canadian provinces, including Ontario, foreign tourists are invited to visit by some local clubs, pay a “cap” fee to borrow a horse and take part in the hunts.
In Canada, coyotes are the primary target species of the hunts. Even though clubs may claim they don’t intentionally try to kill quarry, the chase itself causes fear and distress, and sometimes the hounds catching a coyote is inevitable. The dogs in Canada are bred and trained specifically for hunting and catching coyotes in the Canadian terrain. Unlike in the UK, the dogs are fitted with GPS trackers, as the hunters are more likely to lose track of the pack in Canada’s larger fields and forests. When they catch their prey, the dogs may bite into the terrified and exhausted coyote and rip away flesh until the animal is dead.
The hunt clubs operate with special rules under Ontario’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, and participants in the hunts do not need to pay Ontario’s “outdoors card” license fees. They often maintain secrecy about their activities. The Masters of Foxhounds Association of North America publishes guidelines for Canadian hunts. It warns that animal rights activists can be “extremely irritating” and strongly recommends that its members keep quiet and do not publish photos of their kills, out of fear of upsetting the public and having their activities banned.
There is also a recommendation that clubs not allow the use of cell phones during a hunt except in cases of emergency, preventing participants from taking selfies with dead coyotes. As highlighted by University of Toronto Faculty of Law professor Angela Fernandez in her book Pierson v. Post, The Hunt for the Fox, “[t]his sounds very much like advice being given to a group whose activity would not be thought well of if shown to the public at large in an uncensored way.”
Canada’s beautiful and diverse wildlife is part of our country’s pride, and Canadians care deeply about animals. But wild animals in Canada benefit from few legal protections. By working to pass strong new animal protection legislation, holding abusive industries accountable, and fighting for animals in court, Animal Justice is helping to make Canada a kinder place with laws that better represent how the majority of Canadians feel. Please join us.
Banner: The Hamilton Hunt Club