Chilliwack Fair to review tie-down calf roping and steer wrestling at rodeo

Following a campaign by the Vancouver Humane Society, the board in charge of the Chilliwack fall fair is reviewing the inclusion of two mainstay events at next year's rodeo.

'It's entertainment and cruel entertainment,' says Vancouver Humane Society

A competitor ropes a calf at the 2016 Chilliwack rodeo in one of many images used in a Vancouver Humane Society campaign that called calf roping and steer wrestling the "worst rodeo events" for animal welfare. (Vancouver Humane Society)

This weekend's 145th annual Chilliwack Fall Fair and Rodeo is opening amid continued controversy after the fair's board agreed to vote on the removal of two rodeo events before next year's show.

Following an online campaign by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) against the events, the Chilliwack Fair Board agreed to review the inclusion of tie-down calf roping and steer wrestling.

"The Chilliwack Fair Board of Directors will meet to determine whether the modification of these events to ensure animal safety is possible or if the cancellation of these events is warranted," said a statement on the board's website.

The vote won't take place until September and won't affect this year's competition.

The VHS campaign featured photos taken at last year's rodeo in Chilliwack, which depicted what they described as cruel abuse of calves and steers.

The Chilliwack Fair Board's decision to consider the events lead to the suspension of the VHS campaign but it also triggered concern from rodeo fans that that the rodeo could be lost altogether.

The British Columbia Rodeo Association requires eight specific events take place, including tie-down roping and steer wrestling, in order for a rodeo to be sanctioned, allowing competitors to earn points.

As an unsanctioned event, the rodeo would struggle to attract competitors because the main driver of participation is earning points, not scoring the small purses of prize money, said Cathy Oss, acting director of the Chilliwack Fair Board

"We'd probably lose the rodeo and it would probably mean the end of the rodeo association," Oss said.

Animals in pain, says VHS

Rodeo events like calf roping, seen here at the Williams Lake Rodeo, reflect practices on ranches and ranges in B.C. and are important for community and heritage reasons, according to the B.C. Rodeo Association. (Simon Charland-Faucher/CBC)

Peter Fricker, projects and communications director for the Vancouver Humane Society, told Dan Burritt, guest host of CBC's B.C. Almanac that the society's photos showed "that animals are being subjected to pain and stress and fear at the rodeo."

A number of rodeo participants have come to the defense of the practice saying the mechanics of roping and steer wrestling are regularly employed on ranches and farms to brand, vaccinate and control livestock.

"The men and the women, including our stock contractors, that participate in rodeos are the backbone of ranching and farming in this province," said Trish Kohorst, the vice-president of the B.C. Rodeo Association.

"There's not words to express the relationship that those people have with those animals."

Fricker disagreed and said there's no connection between rodeos  — which he sees as solely a form of entertainment that exploits animals — and the agricultural practice of rearing livestock.

"It's entertainment and cruel entertainment," he said.

Kohorst has been involved in rodeos as a volunteer, participant and organizer for around 15 years and said she's never witnessed an animal being injured.

"The perspective that we're harming and injuring animals just is not true," said Kohorst.

Show goes on, for now

As this weekend's events kick off, the Chilliwack Fair Board said animal safety is front of mind.

In a statement the group said "the organizers ensure animals are comfortable and well cared for with suitable enclosures and good quality feed and fresh water."

It also said caretakers are on hand round the clock and "the safety of the animals at this year's event remains the Chilliwack Agricultural Society's main concern."

A full statement regarding animal welfare at the Chilliwack Rodeo can be found here

B.C. Parks and Conservation Officer Services' Mike Badry and WildSafeBC's Frank Ritcey on bear encounters. Vancouver Humane Society's Peter Fricker, B.C. Rodeo Association's Trish Kohorst and Chilliwack Fair's Cathy Oss on animal welfare at rodeos. 48:29

With files from CBC Radio One's B.C. Almanac