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!)
Restriction on Seal Products to Europe Upheld
Ladies and gentlemen, I would now like to present the International Award for Unintended Irony to Mary Simon, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit organization.
I’ll explain in a moment, but first the bad news, sort of. It was on Oct. 21 that Nunatsiaq News proudly announced, “Inuit seal products are available for the European Market once again.” Since they always had been available and since there has never been an effort to make them otherwise, I was not sure what was newsworthy in that news report. In the article it quotes Rob Cahill, executive director of the Fur Institute of Canada (FIC), as saying, “the news from the court today indicates that trade and further manufacturing of seal products within the EU can continue for the time being, unfettered by the current regulation.”
Well yeah, old news which remained bad news for seals, but not new news, only, at most, a clarification on an existing situation whereby (stay with me on this) the ban on the ban on seal products had been temporarily suspended, all couched in abstruse legalese that had led to more than one interpretation, hence the clarification.
What was real news, and good news for the seals, came less than a week later when, on the night of Oct. 27, reports from Europe announced that the suspension had ended. The high court had rejected the Inuit, Canadian government’s and fur industry’s challenge to the European ban “on Canadian seal products,” as the CBC incorrectly put it. It is the products from the east coast seal hunt that are banned, but the fur industry knows it gets more traction by confusing the two hunts. The Inuit “subsistence” hunt is not only far smaller in scope and with different purposes than the east coast commercial hunt, it involves different species of seals in an entirely different location.
Simon wins her award for saying, “I call on European citizens to understand what this legislation is doing to our right to sell seal products into their markets. I call on them to educate themselves on why the seal hunt is in fact legal, humane and sustainable, and in many cases necessary to maintain marine ecosystem balance. I call on Canadians to do the same.”
The irony, of course, is that the Europeans already know that the legislation does absolutely nothing to deny the Inuit people’s right to sell seal products into the European markets. They understand that it is legal in Canada and have never said otherwise, and, as represented by their elected officials, they know far more about the hunt than do their Canadian counterparts, members of Parliament who have never set foot on the blood-stained ice of an east coast commercial seal hunt. The Europeans have done so, have looked at all sides and considered as objectively as possible the merits of everyone’s briefs, reports and documents and done their own research. Meanwhile, the Canadians endlessly mouth the same old propaganda year after year after year, while attacking with vitriolic rhetoric humanitarians or environmentalists who dare to document their concerns to the Europeans.
And now for the bad news: Canada will still appeal the court’s ruling, going to the World Trade Organization (WTO) with a formal complaint.
When I say “bad” news, though, I don’t mean that it will necessarily be bad for seals, but rather, bad for Canada.
Recently I blogged that Canada had done a good thing by increasing penalties for egregious abuse of livestock in transit (“Fines Raised for Livestock Transport Violations”), and said it was a step in the right direction. Yep, but compared to what the Europeans are doing in the field of animal welfare, it is a very small step indeed.
Canada, if it can put reasoned self-interest over ideology, really does not want to enter any kind of trade war with Europe.
Also in October Canada failed, for the first time ever, in its bid to get a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. Canada’s contempt for the environment as practiced in various international fora concerning the environment, climate change and conservation of flora and fauna in commercial trade, including fisheries, is well-known and not much liked in more progressive countries. The trade in seal products is miniscule to Canada’s trade in other animal products, such as beef, but the playing field is far from level. It is the Europeans who have cause for complaint, methinks, about Canada’s unfair trade practices.
Canada’s house is indeed far too fragile to allow for the throwing of stones.
Barry Kent MacKay