Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gov. Gen's show of solidarity for seal hunt offensive: animal rights group

The Canadian Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean's public gutting of a seal in an Inuit community was a repugnant attempt to legitimize the sealing trade, an opponent of Canada's commercial hunt said Tuesday.

"I found it very offensive," said Rebecca Aldworth, a Canadian spokeswoman for Humane Society International.

"Obviously there is a tremendous public understanding of subsistence hunting in Inuit communities and nobody's opposing that, but to try to benefit from an Inuit ceremony in terms of defending the broader commercial seal hunt is simply unacceptable."

While visiting Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, on Monday, Jean gutted and ate a piece of the bleeding, raw heart of a freshly slaughtered seal.

Jean then wiped her fingers and expressed dismay that anyone would characterize the Inuit seal hunt as inhumane.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament voted to ban seal products, a move that was seen by aboriginals and Atlantic Canadian fishermen as an attack on their trade.
Asked Tuesday whether her actions were a message to Europe, Jean replied, "Take from that what you will."

Newfoundland sealer Jack Troake chuckled after hearing of Jean's actions.

"That's great stuff," Troake said.

"I hope the lady realizes that she's got herself into a hell of a mess. ... You've got some of these environmentalists that are going to jump on her, but I think she's strong enough. She can take that, I think."

For years, animal rights groups have intensely lobbied European politicians to implement a ban. At times they enlisted the support of celebrities like rock legend Paul McCartney in their cause.

The European legislation still needs the backing of European Union governments, which could be a mere formality since national envoys have already endorsed it.

Expected to take effect in October, the ban would apply to all products derived from seals, including fur, meat, oil, blubber and even omega-3 pills made from seal oil. But it would offer narrow exemptions for Inuit communities, though it bars them from a large-scale trading of their pelts and other seal goods in Europe.

Products derived from non-commercial and small-scale hunts to manage seal populations would also not be allowed to enter the EU.

Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Do small victories affect big picture in animal rights debate?

The Gazette - Sunday, May 10, 2009

By Richard Foot, Canwest News Service

It was a satisfying week for animal rights activists in Canada. The European Parliament endorsed a long-awaited ban on seal products, and one of Ottawa's most celebrated restaurateurs removed foie gras from his menu, after months of harassment by protesters.

"We're quite happy about the ban. I've been working for 40 years on the seal issue," says Paul Watson, the Canadian founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, one of the most vociferous opponents of the annual seal harvest.

Meanwhile, Jason Halvorson, a leader of the Ottawa Animal Defense League's campaign to rid the city's restaurants of the controversial culinary treat foie gras, said he was thrilled by the group's most recent victory.

Do such successes mean the animal rights movement is winning its long, controversial campaigns to gain the same legal protections for animals as those ascribed to humans?

Certainly the sealers of Newfoundland, or Ottawa businessman Stephen Beckta, might think so.

Beckta is the owner of two popular dining rooms, who succumbed to months of nasty, anonymous phone calls, insulting e-mails, and noisy demonstrations outside his restaurants by animal rights activists protesting the consumption of foie gras, a traditional French delicacy made from the enlarged livers of force-fed ducks or geese.

Beckta said he gave in to the group's demands not because of any moral choice over foie gras but because he couldn't take any more threats, intimidation or sleepless nights caused by the tactics.

And he's not alone. Last year in Nanaimo, B.C., specialty food store owner Eric McLean capitulated to animal rights activists protesting outside his business by removing cans of foie gras from his shelves.

Yet over the long history of animal rights activism in Canada, it's hard to find evidence that the larger aims of such protests are ever achieved. Notwithstanding their local tactical victories, are animal rights protesters really as effective as they appear?

Consider the Canadian seal hunt, one of the longest-running animal rights campaigns in the world. For nearly half a century, protesters from Watson to Brigitte Bardot, and more recently Paul McCartney, have been trying to shut down the hunt.

They came close in the 1970s when Europe banned the import of products from the youngest seals, known as whitecoats and bluebacks. The commercial hunt nearly collapsed, but 20 years later rebounded as worldwide demand emerged for the oil and the spotted fur of older seals. About 300,000 seals are now harvested in Canada every year.

David Barry, the seal network co-ordinator for the Fur Institute of Canada, says the latest EU ban, while problematic for the industry, doesn't mean it's over. For one thing Canada can still export seal products to China, Russia and other nations outside the EU; there are also exemptions in the ban that allow the culling of seals for conservation purposes.

"This won't bring sealing to an end," he says. "The activists could have had an influence on the manner in which sealing is conducted - and they still could - if they want to talk and work with the people in the industry. But if they continue to just take a fundamentalist position against people who live in the same ecosystem as the seals, then they'll never achieve an end to this activity, because these people rely on this for their living."

In other campaigns, foie gras may be off the shelf of Eric McLean's food store in B.C., and off the menu of Beckta's restaurants in Ottawa, but it remains in supermarkets and restaurants elsewhere in Canada and the around the world.

For decades animal rights activists have protested the use of animals in laboratory experiments. Most recently in California, a scientist at UCLA had his car firebombed for the same reason. Only a year after 9/11, the FBI even labelled animal-rights militants one of that country's most serious domestic terrorist threats. Yet in spite of such concerns, laboratory mice continue to be used by scientists at university campuses across North America.

In 1989, activists destroyed two meat markets in Vancouver to protest World Laboratory Animals Day. Two years later, animal rights protesters set fire to a fish-importing company in Edmonton - ironically killing many of the live lobsters and crabs inside - and causing $46,000 in damage. But Canadians didn't stop eating meat or fish as a result.

In one of their greatest achievements, animal rights groups succeeded in convincing the government of former prime minister Tony Blair to ban England's traditional fox hunts. But now, several years later, public opinion is changing on the subject, according to a recent BBC report, and the Conservative opposition is considering revoking the ban if it wins the next election.

Even the whaling campaigns waged by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and others have not produced a complete end to the whale harvest. Whalers from Japan and Norway each still harvest about 1,000 whales a year. That's a big change from the 20,000 whales killed annually during the 1970s, but also proof that eradicating even the most controversial animal industries is a tough, if not impossible, challenge.

"We are fighting an uphill battle," says Watson. "But we just have to keep pushing on."

Barry says one of the shortcomings of the animal rights movement is its propensity to extremism and fundamentalism. If anti-sealing groups were genuinely interested in the welfare of seals, they would have accepted invitations from the sealing industry and the federal government in 2005 to iron out a set of "best practices" for the harvest.

Instead they sought an outright end to seal markets in Europe and the ban there now includes the loophole allowing Canada to cull its seal population without any cruelty restrictions on how those animals are killed.

But Watson says principles are principles, and the ultimate goal of his campaigns is not negotiation, compromise, or even victory.

"We do what we can with the resources that are available to us," he says. "We don't focus on whether we're going to win or we're going to lose. We do what we think is right, because it's the right thing to do. If we don't succeed, well, then it's going to affect all of humanity.

"The goal is the protection of our oceans, and if the oceans die, we die. It's that simple."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Seal the deal and this annual hunt

The St. Catharines Standard - Thursday, May 7, 2009


While federal politicians are publicly turning the air blue over the European ban on Canadian seal products, it's a safe bet most would be just as happy if the boycott finally killed the controversial annual slaughter on the ice floes.

They may well get their wish.

While the 27 member countries of the European Union long ago ceased to be prime markets for Canadian sealskin, they are nonetheless home to the world's leading fashion houses.

If seal fur is taboo on the runways of Paris and Rome, you can bet it won't be in big demand elsewhere in the western world, either.

Even without the European ban, the two largest remaining international markets -- Russia and China - have been drying up to the point of threatening the viability of the entire industry.

Like virtually all federal politicians, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised to go to the wall to help the Newfoundland sealers, and fight the European ban.

Why bother? The issue certainly isn't to save the Newfoundland economy, which, last time we checked, is now awash in oil revenues.

Nor is to protect the livelihoods of the sealers, most of whom are fishermen trying to make a bit of spare cash in off-season. We are not talking the difference between prosperity and starvation here.

Various official reports on the industry indicate that at its peak, seal pelts were selling for around $100, up to 6,000 sealers were taking their quota, and total sales were over $15 million.

The St. John's Telegram reported this week that pelts are now selling for only $15, "the lowest it has been in years."

As a result, over 70% of all the usual sealing crews decided this year's seal slaughter wasn't worth the effort and stayed home.

Not surprisingly, the big winners have been thousands of young seals.

The Telegram reports that a full month into this year's hunt for a government-imposed quota of about 240,000 seals in the region, fewer than 40,000 have been killed.

Do the math, and ending the seal hunt altogether would cost a few thousand sealers roughly the equivalent of less than two weeks of unemployment insurance payments.

None of this is to dismiss the financial worth of the sealing industry to mainly low-income off-season fishermen. Every dollar is important.

Indeed, if the seal hunt were just another harvest, the Canadian government would be remiss if it didn't try to protect the industry from the European Union boycott.

But as every Canadian politician knows only too well, the annual carnage of cute on the ice floes off Newfoundland is hardly ordinary.

For over 100 years, the clubbing and gutting of seals has provoked raging debate in this country -- some of it factual; a lot of it emotional.

For instance, killing those cuddly white baby seals is already banned.

Yet, anti-sealing campaigns almost invariably feature white pups being clubbed to death and skinned, their carcasses dragged across the bloodied ice on the end of a pick.

Reality is, even if it could be proved conclusively that slaughtering seals of any age is perfectly humane and ecologically necessary to control their numbers, a picture of the kill will always be worth more than a thousand words of rationalization.

That's why the Harper government is wasting time and money fighting the European ban as an international trade issue.

Even if Canada wins, so what? Anti-sealing organizations are already using the Internet to promote an international boycott of Canadian seafood exports, and even tourism to this country.

With any luck, a dying market will kill sealing before it seriously bloodies the whole country.