by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
Thoughts of One Grateful Canadian
On Monday, May 4, 2009, the European Union passed a law banning nearly all products derived from what has colloquially become known as the Canadian seal hunt. Fellow Canadians I know were delighted at the news. The largest annual marine mammal slaughter in the world, with a quota currently set at approximately 300,000 seals, most of whom are only a few weeks old, has been a major cause of the animal protection movement for decades, and has been condemned around the world.
But as a general rule (and with exceptions) the Canadian media have mindlessly followed national political propaganda in defense of what the rest of the world finds so objectionable. The US is currently considering a resolution (S. Res. 84) that urges Canada to end the commercial seal hunt. Canadians, usually super-sensitive to anything Americans say about Canada, generally don’t know that, since it is virtually non-reported. But while it is largely irrelevant to Canadian affairs and interests overall, it is yet another of a plethora of demonstrations of revulsion against the seal hunt around the world.
When the news of the European ban broke on the CBC, the tax-funded but often very independent Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, there was no mention of those of us who were delighted at the news. One brave Canadian politician, Senator Mac Harb, had collected half a million signatures on a petition to end the seal hunt, but that was not mentioned either.
The US is Canada’s largest trading partner. It banned the import of all marine mammal products 37 years ago. Recently Canada exported about 5. 5 million dollars worth of seal products to the EU, and will challenge the ban at the World Trade Organization. Win or lose, as long as the country’s associated with the seal hunt, it will be harmful to its greater interests. The Canadian government is flirting with the idea of using Canada’s position of host of the 2010 Winter Olympics to promote the hunt. Such a stupid move would only help the anti-seal hunt cause overall, of course, by keeping the issue prominent. Publicity about the hunt is the seals’ greatest ally.
With a very few notable exceptions, such as Senator Harb’s solitary efforts (when he tried to table the bill he failed to get a single senator to second his motion, thus preventing the bill being brought to Parliament for debate), Canadian politicians won’t oppose the hunt, won’t even hold open inquiries, for fear of losing east coast support at the polls. While objection to the hunt is nationwide, it is thereby diffuse, while support for the hunt is much higher and focused in eastern Canada, where there is resentment to the rest of the world’s belief that the hunt is barbaric.
It is true that one can call the Europeans hypocritical for opposing Canadian cruelty to animals while practicing their own, from bullfighting through pate-fois production, to fox-hunting. But apart from the fact that two wrongs don’t make a right, the fact is that Europe is far, far ahead of Canada in challenging abusive, if profitable or traditional, commercialized animal abuse. Canada, on the other hand, tried and failed to significantly change its century-old and outdated animal protection legislation, which dutifully exempts most forms of animal abuse from consideration.
The aboriginal community, whose take of seals will be exempted from the ban, is crying foul. What Canadians are not told is that the entire per annum financial return of the aboriginal hunt equals a little less than the average annual income of a Canadian family with two or more earners, approximately $65,000 U.S.
My good friend, Stephen Best, Senior Vice President of Keys Direct Marketing and Communications and a life-long opponent to the seal hunt, recently made the point, “While European legislators have held committee meetings and reviewed the pro and con materials from all quarters, and cross examined witnesses, Canadian politicians never have. In Canada our politicians are probably the least informed groups when it comes to the seal hunt.”
He further notes, “The mainstream Canadian press almost unanimously and uncritically accepts the government line on the seal hunt.”
There is this underlying myth in Canada that the European parliamentarians are somehow naïve, and hypocritical bumblers hoodwinked by money-grubbing animal protectionists playing on irrational emotions. What isn’t pointed out is that the European countries and politicians did not want to oppose trade bans, to do so made no sense. They were compelled to by virtue of the fact that their constituents have consistently complained about aspects of the hunt that exhaustive investigations have shown to be true, as summarized in the simple comment by the European parliamentarians that the hunt is “inherently inhumane.”
What drives the ban is social evolution. If we can’t save the seals from the abuses that are indeed inherent to the scale of the hunt and the conditions in which it is conducted, what can we do to reduce our abuse of those who can feel and suffer, but are not human? And how better to define our humanity than through our ability to incorporate even nonhumans within our sphere of compassion.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Canada will be greater when the Canadian seal hunt is but an historical memory.