The Department of National Defence has decided to add fur to the winter gear of the Canadian Forces, a move that's getting a frosty reception from animal-rights advocates.
The government says fur is part of Canada's heritage and the winter tuque currently in use doesn't stand up to the rigours of the Canadian winter. So it's buying an initial run of 1,000 fur-trimmed caps at a cost of $65,000, for use by guards of honour and Canadian Forces starting this winter.
"It has recently been identified that the winter tuque does not meet the Canadian Forces requirements in our Canadian climate," said DND spokeswoman Josée Hunter.
It's another return to tradition for the Harper government, which has restored the "Royal" designation to the air force and navy. British troops serving in Canada in the 1800s wore a fur head covering, and the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals (now the Communications and Electronics Branch) donned muskrat hats in the 1920s and 30s.
Although bearskin caps are still worn by the Ceremonial Guard, the Forces have largely switched from fur to synthetic. A synthetic fur cap was put into general service for male personnel after unification of the forces in 1968, and women's mink fur hats were replaced by tuques in the 1990s.
Now, however, National Defence says the winter headgear isn't cutting it, so it is bringing in so-called Yukon caps trimmed with muskrat fur.
"DND has reintroduced fur for the Yukon cap because the current winter tuque and synthetic version of the Yukon cap did not meet the specific requirements of the [Canadian Forces] including the thermal requirements due to our Canadian climate," Ms. Hunter said in an e-mail.
That claim was greeted with incredulity by animal-rights groups, who say modern synthetics have become proven substitutes for fur.
"There are synthetics that are just as good and that don't necessitate the killing of animals," Elizabeth Sharpe of the World Society for the Protection of Animals said from Toronto. "Killing animals for their fur is completely unnecessary and cruel."
Lesley Fox of the British Columbia-based Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals says muskrats are known to chew off their limbs to free themselves from leg-hold traps.
"With fur being such a controversial issue, this is a very surprising move," she said. "When we think of Canada, we think of celebrating wildlife, not wearing it. Any time you have a government or one of its departments wearing fur, it really misrepresents the current values of Canadians."
The Defence Department defended the move and noted the Forces' hats are modelled on those worn by the RCMP.
"The uniforms worn by the Canadian Forces are a reflection of Canada's proud heritage," Ms. Hunter said, calling the hats "distinctly Canadian."