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Canadian Projects

Canadian Blog

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!)

Advice to Gail Shea and the Canadian Government: Here's How to Impress the EU

The Canadian government fantasy is just not that widely shared

Published 04/18/14

You may wonder why I, a long time opponent of Canada’s east coast commercial seal hunt, would offer advice to those who fight people like me: the Canadian government. No fear. Anything not fitting the current Canadian government’s ideology is ignored, and yet I live in hope. Call it Canadian pride, or what is left of it, but I hate how we’re increasingly considered to be so backward and regressive on issues pertaining to the environment and animal welfare by so much of the rest of the world—including the European Union (EU), whose ban on the import of products from the east coast commercial seal hunt is opposed by Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea.

Recently, she was quoted as blaming the “the animal rights movement” for China’s apparent reticence to import products, claiming that we had “put a lot of pressure” on the Chinese. Think how that sounds in Europe or China. The so-called “animal rights movement,” whatever she thinks that may be, is supported by volunteered donations (not taxes), and has its hands full with multitudes of humanitarian and environmental concerns in China—from imports of endangered species through dwindling habitat for its own endangered fauna; to horrific zoo, fur, and livestock farm conditions; to a lack of laws providing animal protection; to the live skinning of dogs, cats, or other meat animals in street markets; to shark fin soup; to killer pollution that has caused birds to drop from the sky and marine life to go extinct; to there being virtually no local NGO (non-governmental organization) of its own dedicated to animal protection. And, compared to the resources available to the Government of Canada, what “pressure” do you think humanitarians have? Trade sanctions? Travel restrictions? Call in the ambassador? Mobilize military assets?

So, my first piece of advice to Shea and her colleagues: get real if you want the Europeans to take Canada seriously when it fights to lift the ban on products from the east coast commercial hunt. And to be fair, China is moving forward on environmental and animal protection issues, yes—but no western NGO influences China’s government policy.

Shea is fully in her right to claim that no “baby” seals are killed, but she should understand that, for it to be a truthful statement, a seal has to suddenly stop being a baby at about three weeks of age. But, redefining words does not change their meaning for the rest of the world.

The federal government (dominated by a party most Canadians did not vote for) has continually disgraced itself on many fronts, including the recently-announced (and ironically named) Fair Elections Act, which, if passed, will reduce the number of votes cast by citizens. (But, most foreigners don’t know about that sort of domestic issue.) However, because the issue is of global significance, they do know that former Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, referred to “environmental and other radical groups” as threatening “to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” Oh, the irony, coming from a government that has systematically cut funding to research that demonstrates the risk of over-fishing or global climate change. I’ve been a Canadian longer than the Prime Minister and have never seen a more ideological government—and part of the ideology is to ignore facts or expert opinion. It’s no wonder that the Conference Board of Canada ranked our environmental record 15th out of 17 industrial countries, with, a year later, Simon Frazer University ranking us 24th out of 25 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development nations on environmental performance.

It is hard to reconcile the Canadian decision to contemptuously close, without a trace of consultation with the scientists affected, more than a dozen science libraries run by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Environment Canada, including the then-newly refurbished, century-old St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick—literally throwing hundreds of thousands of documents, including unpublished material with irretrievable baseline data, into dumpsters!

Just recently, Shea has made moves to reduce protection of breeding habitat of various fish stocks, and to ignore utterly scientific advice in order to support west coast salmon farming that puts native stocks at serious risk. In fact, there is a long history of bad decisions by a succession of fisheries ministers for both parties that have formed governments, resulting in numerous losses of valued fish stocks (but nothing like the anti-environmental fanaticism we now see). With such contempt for science, is it any wonder that claims that the commercial seal hunt is supported by “science” are taken with more than a grain of salt in Europe? People can judge for themselves by viewing video online, to which the government has responded by tabling a bill that would prevent observers from getting close enough to sealers to film how they do it. That’s just so typical. Never have I seen such opacity, such secrecy, and such contempt for openness and accountability as is displayed by this government.

In addressing the World Trade Organization, Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment (who once asked us to celebrate the killing of a polar bear), was miffed that the EU imported seals from Greenland. That’s because it’s an aboriginal hunt… but so is the hunt for seals in northern Canada, and products from it are also not banned: a point Canada ignores, to the detriment of northern “subsistence” sealers’ interests. They have a monopoly. Subsistence, yes, but Europeans know that trade with them is a function of European colonization. The real irony is that the Canadian government has continually ignored warnings about climate change that so profoundly puts northern traditions at risk from melting permafrost and diminishing ice, including the sea ice so essential to seals and polar bears.

It is ironic, too, that—again ignoring any science that shows that gray seals are not proved to be a threat to commercial fisheries (and could help them in their role as apex predators)—Canada claims that they should be culled, and claims that no seal is wasted, when there is no market. Again, the Europeans are informed on such matters.

Canada loves to mention foie gras, bullfights, and fox hunting as examples of European traditions equal to the seal hunt in cruelty. But, to compassionate (and logical) Europeans, two wrongs don’t make a right, and the fact is that the EU is far ahead of Canada in trying to set standards for increasingly humane treatment of animals. As the recent trial of Maple Lodge, our largest chicken producer, shows, we have a very long way to go. Meanwhile, the humane movement also fights these “traditions,” success dependent on public support. The trajectory, in Europe and many other regions, is forward, toward ever more animal welfare. Not so, sadly, here in Canada.

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