African trophy-hunting show in GTA sparks protest

Roughly two dozen demonstrators stopped traffic outside a convention centre in Vaughan, Ont., on Saturday to protest an African trophy-hunting show.

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African Events Canada hosted The Africa Show at the Premier Place Banquet Venue, which was expected to draw hundreds of hunters from across the globe.

But Saturday's demonstrations weren't the event's first hurdle.

The gathering was originally supposed to be held at the Borgata Wedding and Event Venue, also in Vaughan, but it cancelled the booking on Friday, citing "threats" from animal activists.

"We arrived yesterday to start setting up, and the owners came and said, 'We can't host your event’," one of The Africa Show's organizers told CTV Toronto.

At the time, nearly 30 of the exhibitors had been in the process of setting up their booths after flying in from Africa.

Protests by Animal Justice -- a non-profit that advocates for the humane treatment of animals -- also resulted in the cancellation of a booking at a Holiday Inn near Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, where the show was originally scheduled to take place.

The Africa Show -- which has been in operation since 2009 and offers attendees a chance to book trips to Africa to hunt animals such as lions, leopards, elephants and hippopotamuses -- has never attracted protests before.

But organizers say this year's show has been targeted because of the death of Cecil the lion last summer, which incited a worldwide uproar. The famous animal was killed by an American, after it was lured out of a national park.

But attendees of Saturday's event said there are positives to legally sanctioned hunting in Africa.

"Absolutely no part of (an) animal is wasted,” said one attendee.

"I've personally hunted in Zambia. I've hunted a buffalo … and that buffalo got put in a vehicle and we delivered it to a village that was all but starving."

Big-game hunting is estimated to be a $1-billion industry in Africa. And supporters say a lot of that money goes towards conservation.

"We use the funds we get in Tanzania, for instance, to do a lot of anti-poaching," said Helga Zeinali, an exhibitor at the show.

"The poaching there is a huge problem and the funds that come into the government for the hunting, which is all legal, goes towards that."

Birgit Johnstone, the owner of African Events Canada, said that she used to be against hunting, but living in the countryside for 30 years changed her mind.

"You're entitled to your opinion, but understand and educate yourself on the importance of the value of hunting, (and) the economic contribution towards these African countries.

Protesters said money isn't the issue, and people can contribute to African nations in ways that don't involve hunting.

"If they wanted to contribute to the economies of Africa, then they should just be paying out amounts, or go visit there and be tourists, and act ethically when they're there," said Remington Latanville, a member of Ban African Trophy Hunting.

Despite the protests, The Africa Show is expected to continue to run on Sunday. The event is also scheduled to make stops in Saskatoon on Jan. 23-24, and Calgary on Jan. 30-31.

The Saskatoon show was also forced to find a new venue after a petition by Animal Justice prompted a cancellation by the Saskatoon Inn.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Scott Lightfoot and files from The Canadian Press



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