The alleged killings of 100 sled dogs in Whistler last April has brought cancellations to sled-related activities, but the effect on overall tourism hasn't yet been determined.
Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, which does marketing and sales organization on behalf of the community, said that there have been four cancellations recorded for dog sled activities, one change by a visitor to a different company and no cancellation of accommodation as of yet.
"There's been cancellations on snow sledding activities but I am not aware of any vacation cancellations at this time," she said.
Fisher spoke to Pique as the Whistler community is facing calls for boycott on social media sites from individuals deeply angered at the alleged culling of 100 sled dogs last year.
According to Workers Compensation Board documents Bob Fawcett, the general manager of Howling Dog Tours Whistler Inc., a subcontractor of Outdoor Adventures Whistler, claims he killed the dogs over two days in what has been described as a "post-Olympic cull" when business slowed down after the Games. The news first emerged in WorkSafe BC documents obtained by CKNW Radio in Vancouver.
The BC SPCA is now conducting an investigation into the incident with the assistance of the RCMP. Marcie Moriarty, head of the SPCA's cruelty investigations division, said the organization does not yet have sufficient evidence to bring charges to Crown counsel.
The SPCA is currently waiting on disclosure of the whole WorkSafe BC file and a judge will rule on disclosing it February 14.
The story has stirred an enormous reaction on the internet, with over 50,000 people joining a Facebook group titled "Boycotting Outdoor Adventures in BC, Whistler." Individuals posting on the group and on Whistler Blackcomb's Facebook site have called on tourists to boycott Whistler as a result of the alleged killings.
Alfred Hermida, an assistant professor at the UBC School of Journalism, said social media often acts as an accelerant for stories such as this.
"Essentially, it increases the spread of news because it's spread through networks," he said. "If I tell you and you tell your friends, this is what we're seeing happen, but it happens through Facebook."
Speaking to attempts to boycott Whistler, Fisher said Tourism Whistler has itself received much correspondence from the public relating to the culling. She added that in every piece of correspondence it has sent out, the organization has communicated the "importance of allowing the appropriate authorities to complete their investigation."
"None of us is a judge and jury, none of us is aware of the facts," she said. "Clearly we must follow official process. We have certainly communicated that out. And let's be frank, sometimes when stories break in the media, they don't include all the facts."
Reaction to the incident has helped carry the story out of Whistler into media outlets in Vancouver and even newspapers including the Washington Post and the New York Times. The story has reached as far as Rome, Italy, where hundreds of protesters brought their dogs to a rally outside the Roman Colosseum.
Closer to Whistler, a "Tweet-up" was held at West Vancouver's Ambleside Park with hundreds in attendance. Called "Barking Mad," the rally was organized by Vancouver columnist Catherine Barr as a way to call for tougher animal cruelty laws to prevent such incidents in the future.
In Whistler proper, a "funeral procession" was held on Saturday afternoon with around 70 participants and a petition circulated to call on MP John Weston to advocate for tougher animal cruelty laws. The procession wound its way from the Whistler Village Gondola, through the Village Stroll and ended at the base of Blackcomb with dogs in tow. Participants were asked to donate to animal care organizations.
"I saw an opportunity to help people express themselves in a positive way and to do something for the people that are working every day to protect animals," Jordan Tesluk, a Squamish resident and organizer of the procession, said Saturday.
The online reaction to the killings has also brought threats against the businesses involved. In response, Outdoor Adventures Whistler has taken its sign down from its kiosk located in the Hilton Whistler Resort and Spa and a security guard was stationed outside on Saturday.
The threats are serious enough that the Whistler RCMP have opened a file and are currently investigating "approximately five" incidents. The threats, said Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair, have come by e-mail and fax, although much correspondence sent to the businesses has not actually been threatening.
The RCMP hasn't yet identified any suspects and is using IP addresses to determine the identities of people who've threatened the businesses anonymously.
The Province of British Columbia also announced on Tuesday that a task force looking into the incident met for the first time that day. Task Force Chair and MLA Dr. Terry Lake said in a statement that he and his fellow members are "committed to ensuring the sled dog industry is operating in a humane and sustainable way."