Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre finds himself in a unique position. Having just declared Canada’s second largest metropolis a “sanctuary city,” he now finds himself an unlikely defender of a summer rodeo against animal rights activists who are distributing a petition to ban the event.
The rodeo, dubbed “NomadFest urban rodeo,” scheduled to run from Aug. 24-27, is not exactly endemic to French Canadian culture, but was planned as part of a festival to celebrate the 375th anniversary of Montreal’s founding, and Coderre remains committed to bringing “a taste of country culture” to Montreal’s populace, the National Post reports.
The animal rights activists, who have tried unsuccessfully for decades to shut down the world-famous Calgary Stampede, think they have found a potential victory in their Montreal campaign, where support for rodeos is not has enormous as it is in the Western province of Alberta.
They are sharpening their rhetoric to convince the city that the rodeos should be banned because they feature acts where horses and bulls are forced through torture to throw the riders.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which has become increasingly radicalized in Canada, began distributing their petition on Apr. 20, and by Tuesday morning it had attracted more than 13,000 signatures. The petition declares the rodeo a “barbaric” event, and its organizers say they might launch a legal challenge under the auspices of Quebec’s extreme animal welfare legislation.
“Rodeos, which subject animals to fear, stress and undue risk of injury and death — all for the purposes of ‘entertainment’ — are just completely unacceptable, specifically within the context of the new legislation and the new status we’ve given to animals in this province,” Alanna Devine, director of animal advocacy for the SPCA, told The National Post.
When first announced, the Montreal mayor enthusiastically endorsed it, saying “country is part of the fabric of our history and of popular culture” and he has refused to back down from that initial assessment. Despite hearing from concerned citizens at the last Montreal city council meeting on Monday night, Coderre remains adamant.
Anie Samson, vice-chairman of the city’s executive committee, said she is convinced that the rodeo will not involve cruelty.
“The rodeo will take place in August,” she said. “The people who want to come will come.”
Folks living about 100 miles northeast of Montreal, in the rural town of Saint-Tite, don’t understand why a rodeo should become a controversy.
Pascal Lafrenière, general manager of the Festival Western de Saint-Tite, organizes a Quebec rodeo that now attracts over 600,000 people a year.
Started 50 years ago with a rodeo in a baseball park, the festival now attracts 600,000 people a year, and it has never encountered the kind of opposition that is mounting against the Montreal event. The Saint-Tite festival has been commissioned to organize the Montreal rodeo in August.
Lafrenière says the accusations that rodeo riders submit their animals to cruelty through electric prods and testicle-strapping are lies. “We have the same passion for animals as the people who don’t believe we should be using them,” he said.
“It is natural for a horse to buck. We do not restrain it,” Lafrenière said, suggesting the SPCA should look for cruelty in more familiar areas. “A parrot has its wings cut in a pet store. There are dozens of pet stores in Montreal in which there are snakes in aquariums, tarantulas in aquariums, fish in aquariums. That’s not their natural habitat.”