Our Man In Canada
November 11th, 2002


Chris Marshall

By Chris Marshall

As fly fishers, we tend to be more conservationally aware and active than most other anglers. Consequently, we've opposed governmental downsizing and budget slashing in both provincial and federal ministries responsible for fisheries management and protection of aquatic habitats. It's bad enough watching vital programs curtailed or cancelled and essential staff let go, but it really rubs salt into the wounds when government can't find the cash for conservation can find it for public relations.

Our field editor for Southern Ontario, A.J. Somerset, supplied us with an example of such a confusion of priorities this summer: It specifies the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, but the message is for fly fishers whereever they may live. Here it is. ~ Chris Marshall

On the 27th of June, Ontario's Bill 135 was granted Royal Assent, and so the Heritage Hunting and Fishing Act came into force. This law purports to recognize the right of Ontarians to hunt and fish, and has been greeted with breathless enthusiasm by pro-hunting-and-fishing lobby groups such as the Canadian Outdoor Heritage Alliance and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.

Supposedly, this law will forever protect us from "the antis," and in the outdoor press it has been above criticism. Lobby groups and newspaper columns exhorted us all to make supportive comments on the Environmental Bill of Rights posting concerning the bill, and 97 percent of the comments posted were supportive. But exactly what was everyone supporting?

Apart from establishing a Fish and Wildlife Heritage Commission, the Heritage Hunting and Fishing Act does absolutely nothing. This legislation is essentially a sop thrown to Ontario's anglers and hunters, who are variously angry about cancelled bear hunts, slashed unding to the MNR, and assorted other grievances. It is little more than a legislative group hug between the government and oudoor lobby groups.

At a mere four pages - in both official languages - including the cover page and an other-wise-blank page bearing a summary of the bill, this act is slim indeed. This is what is actually says: "A person has the right to hunt and fish in accordance with the law."

This, of course, is precisely the right that we have all enjoyed for years, and a single sentence in a provincial law does nothing to protect or preserve that right. This is not a "right" as guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which cannot be limited or revoked without a long and painful bout of constitutional reform. Any future provincial government can revoke it simply by amending the Act. In short, this "legal right" is not a "right" at all.

Yet COHA refers to the Act as "a most positive piece of landmark legislation." Meanwhile, groups such as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, Freedom for Animals, ARK II, Zoocheck, and the Peaceful Parks Coalition campaigned actively against it. Why such strong reactions to such empty legislation?

The answer is public relations. The Fish and Wildlife Heritage Commission created by this Act is charged with the responsibility to make recommendations to the Minister regarding the promotion of sport fishing and hunting. Animal rights groups, obviously spend most of their time and money doing exactly the opposite, and they can't be expected to sit by quietly as the government provides a mechanism for public participation in promoting fishing and hunting. Naturally, they howled with anger, and groups such as COHA, which is dedicated to no other purpose than fighting them, responded.

Current issue

It's difficult to critize the creation of the Fish and Wildlife Heritage Commission, because actively promoting fishing is the best way to guarantee its future. But for anglers who don't hunt, many of whom don't view "the antis" as anything more than an annoyance, there are higher priorities. Even those who feel that angling is under threat also recognize that real conservation measures are equally important to the future of fishing.

And that is the crux of the problem. Instead of supporting laws handing out "rights" as window dressing, we need to demand that our MNR is adequately funded to do the work it is mandated to do - which at present, according to Ministry sources, it is not. Anglers must remember that fishing has no future without healthy fisheries - and that putting our energy into keeping our streams, rivers, and lakes healthy is the best public-relations work we can ever do. ~ A. J. Somerset

We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

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