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(DV) Hall: Refocus Seal Intervention Where It Belongs: Government Subsidies







Refocus Seal Intervention Where It Belongs:
Government Subsidies

by Lee Hall
April 5, 2005

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As the global media have reported, Canada will allow the deaths of about 320,000 seals this year. 


As this year’s hunt began, a group of observers from Sea Shepherd and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) approached an area where hunters were working at the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The animal welfare representatives reported arriving under a permit from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans enabling observers to view the hunt from 10 metres (about 11 yards) away. 

The Associated Press reported that hunters fired warning shots and hurled verbal abuse to drive the observers away, and that “a snowmobile carrying two seal hunters hurtled towards the activists and swung away at the last moment.” A shoving match ensued, and welfare representatives reported that hunters struck one observer with a hakapik (spiked bat).

Since these events, and after officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans arrested 11 protesters for allegedly violating regulations that prohibit protesters from getting too close to the hunt without permits, advocates have sent numerous alerts asking for calls to a local police sergeant and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans on the issue of getting the workers arrested.


Seal protection campaign:  Some background

Last month, animal protectionists urged foreign shoppers to stop buying Canadian fish products until Canada changes its seal-hunting policies.

One U.S. Humane Society’s “Pocket Guide to Boycotting Canadian Seafood” asks supporters to delay purchasing 19 listed marine animals originating from Canada, including swordfish, cod, lobsters, and snow crabs.  The boycott assumes, of course, that these animals are part of the activists’ regular diet -- even though the main excuse for the hunt is that the seals have depleted the Atlantic of fish such as cod.


Some boycott proponents, before arriving as welfare observers at the scene of the hunt, displayed unflattering photos and highly critical commentary about the workers who do the killing, although these workers are subsidized to do it by the Canadian government.

And that’s where activism belongs:  squarely at the door of the government, which sells fur skins to Norway, Greenland, Germany and other countries, which sells seal flesh and offal to Europe and Asia, and which, since 1995, has spent tens of millions in Canadian dollars to subsidize seal processing and develop new markets for seal products.


 Legal issues: Some basics


Canadians must unequivocally oppose the hunt to get meaningful results from their government.  To date, international welfare groups have complained that the hunt falls short of humane standards, and undertaken legal action to obtain permits to view the hunt from the same Department that issues permits to hunters. Thus, protest has simply become a component of the annual seal hunt.

Q. Does leaving injured seals on the ice contravene the anti-cruelty provision of Canada’s Criminal Code, which applies to anyone who “
wilfully causes…unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal” or “by willful neglect causes damage or injury to animals…while they are being driven or conveyed”?


A. It’s unlikely that workers are criminally accountable for “wilful” cruelty when they are rushing to kill tens of thousands of seals in about a month’s time -- exactly what the government permits them to do.


Q. Aren’t hunters violating the Marine Mammal Regulations, recently clarified so that hunters must poke seals’ eyes to ensure they’re dead before skinning them?


A. Yes, but again, that’s no surprise. The hunt is mass production. In 1998, the International Fund for Animal Welfare commented on the proposed amendments to the Regulations. IFAW’s submission focused on “sustainability,” opining that “the number of animals killed is one of the most serious management questions regarding the commercial seal hunt,” asked that “sealers pass a marksmanship test every two years,” and called for a larger regulatory enforcement budget. On the need for a “clearer requirement for the blinking eye reflex test to be done before bleeding or skinning,” IFAW wrote:


We support this proposal. It must be clear that once a seal has been struck, sealers must promptly confirm the animal’s death by administering the blinking eye reflex test before skinning or bleeding or otherwise cutting open the seal. It goes without saying that by ensuring that the seal is dead before moving to skin or bleed the animal, suffering will be limited.


Before this season’s hunt, IFAW filmed over 600 welfare violations. Enough is enough.


The world community should oppose the Canadian seal hunt as a matter of morality. Welfare groups press year after year for rules that are meaningless in actual quota circumstances, blame hunters for failing to meet them, then express shock that the hunters would chase off observers. 


Respect marine life, and Newfoundland’s human residents. End the hunt.


A holistic view of activism does not portray people struggling economically as demons. Activism works when workers --- whether they be seal hunters or employees in a chicken or fish processing plant, in any town throughout the continent -- are invested in change, and together we confront those who profit from objectionable acts. Thus, rather than insisting that the Canadian authorities arrest sealers the activism must be directed at the government, and the corporate power it serves.


The government makes excuses; it’s in the position to stop. Before Europeans settled the North American coast there were, according to the Green Party of Canada, some “24 million harp seals living in balance with so many fish that their abundance could impede the passage of ships.” Today, after decades of hunting, less than 5 million harp seals remain, and Canadian authorities appear to be on the verge of announcing a five-year plan which could involve the slaughter of more than a million animals. (“Largest Seal Cull in Half a Century Reaches Bloody Climax,” The Observer, 27 Mar. 2005).

Seal advocates in Denmark, Germany, France, Greenland, China, South Korea -- and especially Norway, a major redistribution point for seal fur -- must insist that these governments put a permanent stop to their fur trading.


And we ask people throughout the world -- especially Canadians -- to insist that the representatives of the Canadian people stop the hunt subsidies immediately. Use the funds to build a real economic foundation for Newfoundlanders. Canada banned whale killing, and the economy adjusted. It’s long past time to end the seal hunt. Respect marine life, and Newfoundland’s human residents.


Lee Hall is legal director for Friends of Animals, an international advocacy organization founded in 1957. Email:


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