The Chilliwack Fair is growing, and with that growth comes challenges like being targeted with threats and harassment by animal rights activists.
The 147th Chilliwack Fair saw an increase in attendance of about eight per cent, with 41,000 people through the gates in 2019, “which was the largest crowd we’ve ever seen,” said Cathy Oss, president of the Chilliwack Agricultural Society in her annual report to council Tuesday.
A small profit was recorded, which will be used for staffing next year, but also to offset additional security costs due to heightened animal rights activism.
“The Fair is the single largest public event in Chilliwack, and has great benefits to the community,” reads the report. The popular event has potential to bridge the gap between urban and rural neighbours in the celebration of the community’s biggest industry: agriculture.
Bridging that “gap” means fact the fact that more urban-oriented people are choosing to call Chilliwack home.
“Demographics are changing so that most people have little connection with agriculture and food production,” Oss said. “We are receiving attention from activists because of this.”
The Vancouver Humane Society has been present at the Chilliwack Rodeo for the past three years, with photographers planted in the crowd, and protests.
There were reports by 4-H youth and farmers of being “harassed and threatened,” Oss said.
They are especially concerned about 4-H youth who now have to take extra safety precautions.
Photos of 4-H participants and their animals were also circulated last summer with threats that the animals would be “set free,” which is extremely worrisome, and dangerous, Oss said.
“The youth and leaders took threats very seriously and needed to sometimes lock animals into pens to guard against them being released, injured and traumatized.”
Fair organizers managed to secure 90 business sponsors, and 40 rodeo sponsors but some farmers are becoming reluctant to participate for fear of being exposed to the negativity of protests, or having their children taunted at school.
They’ve lost two major sponsors due to the harassment.
“Some of our sponsors and farmers no longer want to have their name or any signs displayed due to negative publicity,” Oss wrote. “We strongly believe that our farms should be celebrated, not harassed.”
They expect to see protests continue despite efforts to modify some of the events.
“They wish to have the rodeo cancelled,” Oss underlined, and rodeo volunteers have had to put up extra fencing around their livestock in order to keep them safe but also require security at extra cost.
So overall the report makes it clear that the Chilliwack Fair is experiencing “growing pains” that need to be addressed, but there were many successful elements from the new rabbit competition, and horse show to the 5km Donut Dash, to racing pigs and much more.
Aside from the impacts from protesters, there are also traffic congestion issues on Luckakuck Way. Because the crowds are growing, the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch has requested “a considerable increase” in security personnel, which will increase costs “significantly” as well.
See more of the Chilliwack Fair report, as the first item in the Dec. 3 council agenda.