The Empress: Where The Tiger Still Hangs
Recently, it came to the attention of The Critical Cat that The Fairmont Empress hotel was hosting Shikar Safari’s annual conference in the hotel and around the community. Their presence in the Empress was not advertised anywhere except at a non-descript table in the second floor lobby with a small sign reading “2015 Shikar Safari Club International Meeting.” When we inquired about events planned throughout the city, we were told only that it was for “private members” only with no further details. We took a one page sheet to look at and as we perused in the seats nearby a picture was taken of us by one of the people working at the table. Maybe we didn’t hide it all that well, but they knew they had been spotted by animal activists and immediately got nervous. Why else would they take a picture?
Now, The Empress is certainly a hotbed of Victoria’s colonial past with its fur retailers and tiger skin hanging in the Bengal Lounge which all speak to this sordid history. We would hope that they would consider some of that past at least reprehensible to be supporting 2015. Yet, we find them welcoming trophy hunters who represent whole-heartedly that colonial past including through their name, “Shikar” which they claim on their website “…was probably a tiger hunt in India” and their lament that “Those days are gone…” Indeed, in 1924 there were over 100,000 wild tigers in Asia, with that number now being a mere 3,000. More are currently kept in captivity than live in the wild.
Shikar Safaris offers excursions for people to kill animals for trophies across Turkey, Russia, Romania, Hungary, Nepal, and a number of other countries. What you will find on their website is a fast array of dead animals with their limp bodies being held up for display by almost exclusively white hunters. While there are no prices listed on the website, one very quickly gets the impression that these trips are for western privileged white people that pay top dollar to go into generally poorer countries and kill wildlife that have little or no legal protection, and any protection that may exist is sold to highest bidder. Ibex, bears, deer, boars, mountain sheep, urial among others are all in the catalogue, the bigger the horns the more prized undoubtedly. This is all wrapped up in a thin ribbon of conservation double-speak; “killing” means “conserving” so that there is more wildlife to kill…
So, why should The Empress care about welcoming these colonial killers to hold conferences in their hotel?
– One reason could be that they don’t want to welcome an organization that practices trophy hunting, a practice supported by a mere 10% of British Columbians according to a recent poll done by Insights West. While The Empress clearly is more interested in catering to its international customers, a bad reputation among locals could lead to a loss of many referrals to the hotel.
– The Empress is keen to acknowledge that they would not discriminate in welcoming any valid guest or legitimate businesses to their hotel. Again with the double-speak, read “legitimate” as “paying.” How far are they willing to take this? We can’t necessarily fault them for allowing organizations their freedom to stay in the hotel. However, they must also take into consideration the fact that this will come with a certain loss of face to their hotel in the eyes of many. Because a business is legitimate in the legal sense does not mean it is legitimate in a social context. Recently Emirates SkyCargo implemented a ban on shipping animal trophies from exactly this kind of organization. The Empress needs to ask themselves if they would welcome this group if they were planning to kill local cougars or bears on their own front lawn because that is what Shakar Safaris represents to those who care about wildlife. Their presence here is a representation of trophy hunting culture and by allowing The Empress name to be on a coat of arms next to this business’ is disgraceful in a community where this practice is condemned.
– Much like the fur trimmed coats that are still sold in the stores that line the halls of The Empress, welcoming businesses that openly exploit and promote violence against wildlife is just begging to be protested. Would they consider it “illegitimate” for us to protest Shikar Safaris conference considering the social milieu concerning what they sell and that our message would be supported by 90% of the province? Our bet is that security is already heightened now that they know animal activists know of Shikar’s presence in the hotel. Clearly Shikar did not want their presence there known as it is not listed anywhere that we could find, this further begs the question: If they are a legitimate business, what is it they are trying to hide?
It is not up to The Empress to be the gatekeeper of morality to those who would use their facilities, the fact is that if they said no to Shikar someone else would readily say yes. However, The Empress is a special case in some regards in that it strongly represents a history of British colonial exploitation on unceded Coast Salish Territories and beyond. While this history may be romanticized by Victoria’s tourist industry along with antiquated and inhumane practices such as the horse-drawn carriages, it also runs the serious risk of becoming anachronistic in 2015 and beyond where the exploitative and violent history represented by colonial expansion are quickly becoming a mark of shame in our society. The Empress has a responsibility to represent its colonial past in a light that accepts its history while also condemning it and taking steps to distance itself from the roots of that culture. Allowing themselves to be associated with a trophy hunting organization is a step in the wrong direction if distance is indeed what they want to create from this past. It makes them look proud of being the place where a tiger skin hangs in Victoria B.C. Its eyes empty and stripes no longer burning bright, exhausted from being gazed upon as a trophy by so many indifferent to their plight. While below, The Empress disgracefully invites those who would hang another skin in its place to sip on martinis and talk about their next trophy, their next life purchased, their next bullet…
The Critical Cat
Get involved and tell The Empress how you feel about them hosting trophy hunters on our Facebook Event Page.