UVic resumes war against bunnies

Court ruling removes injunction against trapping and killing rabbits that have taken over the campus

University of Victoria’s legendary rabbit infestation will soon be coming to an end. An injunction against trapping and killing the feral rabbits, filed by animal rights activist Roslyn Cassells, was withdrawn by a B.C. Supreme Court judge on Monday. The university was hoping to have all but 200 of the 2,000  rabbits, that dig holes, eat vegetation and litter the campus with feces, removed before students return to class. Instead, because of the delay, they hope to have as many as 500 removed by the end of September, and continue removing them at a rate of about 100 a week if the plan proves successful. The university has now committed to using non-lethal methods for controlling the rabbit population.

In his ruling, Justice A.F. Cullen concluded that the case does not lend “itself to legal action because it lacks the indicia of a private interest or special damage peculiar to Ms. Cassells.” The judge added that Cassells “has failed to establish that she has the requisite standing.” Cullen also noted that the case was “amenable to the sort of social and political activism which the petitioner has, with her supporters, pursued vigorously and successfully.”

By Monday afternoon, the university had begun setting traps. “We had hoped to have five weeks, now we only have one week,” Tom Smith, UVic’s executive director of facilities management, said. “We felt that there was no authority for [the injunction] to be put in place.”

While Cassells’ injunction, which was filed on July 30th, was dismissed, it appears to have served its purpose. At the end of June, the university released its Feral Rabbit Management Plan. Although the university apparently committed to trapping, sterilizing, and releasing rabbits to sanctuaries, it did not rule out lethal methods if enough homes could not be found. That posed a hurdle for groups, such as the Coalition for the Ethical Treatment of UVic Rabbits, because many of the sanctuaries did not have the requisite permits. The injunction halted the university’s plans, which were to start at the beginning of August.

During that time, permits were secured from the Ministry of the Environment, for at least four sanctuaries. A Texas sanctuary will be taking 1,000 rabbits, while the rest will likely go to B.C. sanctuaries located in Coombs, Cowichan Station and Saltspring Island. “We recognize that there are sufficient permits,” Smith said.

Cassells is happy that sanctuaries received their permits but remains skeptical about UVic promises not to kill any rabbits. “We’re going to hold them to it,” she said.

Although the court ruling placed no restrictions on the university killing rabbits, it was noted that a “non-lethal population control plan,” would best serve the community, the university, as well as the rabbits. The university will incur the costs to trap the animals, but sterilization and relocation costs will be paid for by activist groups and the sanctuaries.

Photo courtesy of Heather Clebo