Council's proposed ban on crossbows has little to do with improving safety and everything to do with impeding hunters' rights, says one advocate.
Clarke Gatehouse, president of the Pemberton Wildlife Federation (PWF) said that bow hunting within RMOW limits hasn't been a safety issue in the past because no one in Whistler has ever been hit with a crossbow.
"Hunters think it's a personal anti-hunting agenda that doesn't have anything to do with safety," he said. "What else could it be?
"It's been portrayed as a safety concern but it's really not. Why would you ban something as a safety concern when it's not?" he said.
Bow hunters are allowed to hunt within town limits as long as they are 100 metres away from a park or building and/or 15 metres away from the centre of a road or path during hunting season.
Since no person in Whistler has been shot accidentally with a bow, Gatehouse claims there's no evidence proving that crossbows have ever been a threat to public safety. So there's no reason to ban them.
"That doesn't seem like a rational argument," said Sylvia Dolson, who drafted a letter - through Whistler Residents Opposed to Urban Hunting - to council that initially spurred the movement to regulate bow hunting within municipal boundaries.
"Crossbows are dangerous. They're as dangerous as firearms. Currently our bylaw prohibits firearms, so I don't see the difference," she said.
But there's a world of difference to Gatehouse.
"Bullets will travel a couple of miles and still be dangerous. A bow is only a few yards," he said. "With a rifle, it could be a safety issue. With a bow, it's clearly not."
Last week, council asked staff to look into what steps need to be taken to regulate bow hunting within municipal limits. It's unclear whether a bylaw will be drafted before the fall bow hunting season begins on Sept. 1.
There has been some confusion in council and in public discussion over whether the ban is a municipal or a provincial issue. According to the province's community charter, Chapter 26, Section 8, a "council may, by bylaw, regulate, prohibit and impose requirements in relation to the following: (e) bows and arrows, knives and other weapons not referred to in subsection 8."
Through the community charter, the RMOW has regulated firearms under the Firearms Regulation Bylaw No. 874, 1991. There is no mention of crossbows in the bylaw, which has allowed bow hunting in RMOW limits all this time.
In June, a bear was killed with a crossbow near Highway 99 south of Function Junction. Witnesses called the Conservation Officer Service, who found that the hunter was within his legal right to shoot the bear. Dolson drafted her letter shortly after and circulated it to the mayor and councillors.
Gatehouse said that incident was not one of public safety but one of a hunter with "bad judgment."
While he doesn't see a need to change the law regarding bow hunting, he said there might be some middle ground that can be reached, although he doesn't know what that might be.
"Most bow hunters likely don't want to hunt anywhere near buildings or residential areas or parks," he said.
Dolson said she's had much support from "dozens" of people within the community, and from quite a number of hunters as well. She said she's "pleased" with the steps council has taken, even if a regulating bylaw isn't instated before the bow-hunting season.
"I didn't really expect a lot of resistance from council because it is a safety issue for the visitors and residents," she said.
Dolson had also planned to take her fight to the federal government to ask them to regulate bow hunting on the five-mile stretch of the Callaghan Road outside the RMOW boundaries, but she's not sure how that will turn out.
"It's an extremely complicated process. I'm going to have to see if the municipality may wish to carry it forward. It doesn't seem like it's something that can be done by a private citizen. It's very onerous and requires public consultation," she said. "I'm not really sure where to take it from here, to be honest."
She said other municipalities across Canada have specific wording in their bylaws banning bow hunting. She'd like to see Whistler adopt a bylaw similar to what Bowen Island instated in 1990, banning all bows within municipal limits except at ranges for target practice.