Published by Senator Lorna Milne (retired) on 18 March 2009
Re: “WTO Retaliation Threatened as EU Seal Ban Draws Closer,” March 4 (Embassy)
The purpose of this letter is to dispel a few of the myths regarding the Canadian Seal Harvest. For many Canadians located close to the Gulf of St. Lawerence, off the east coast of Newfoundland, and in the North, harvesting seals has been part of a traditional way of life for hundreds of years. Thousands of Canadians rely on this activity as an important source of income every year.
In April 2007, the House of Commons Committee on Fisheries and Oceans stated, “This activity is particularly important to Inuit communities in the North who have for generations depended on the seal for their survival and economic well-being. The threat of a ban on the importation of products from the seal harvest is a real concern to these people, and the Canadian government has to do a better job at defending their interests on the international scene.”
In September 2006, I had the displeasure of rebuking the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Loyola Hearn for failing to appropriately respond to a European Parliament call for a ban on the sale of Canadian seal products. At the time, my colleague Bill Matthews said the Minister’s cavalier attitude to the livelihood and reputation of thousands of citizens of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada`s Aboriginal People was absolutely unacceptable.
During this period there were between 5000 and 6000 Canadians involved in this industry which produced an average of about $3,000 each in annual income. In areas that experience unemployment rates that are usually more than 30 per cent higher than the national average, this is a significant amount of income.
Unfortunately, Mr. Matthews words were incredibly perceptive since under this Conservative government the value of the seal hunt has dropped from $32 million to $7 million. Meanwhile, it has been the constant practice of groups opposed to the hunt to use outdated and out of context images of the seal hunt to distort the public’s view of the hunt. Distorted, false and even doctored images of the seal hunt are among the most effective tools for fundraising by many extreme animal rights groups.
It is my understanding that the Government of Canada makes every effort to ensure the seal hunt is conducted in a safe and humane manner. In 2005, an Independent Veterinarians' Working Group (IVWG) on the Canadian Harp Seal Hunt was formed to review the Canadian seal hunt and contribute to the promotion of animal welfare. The working group made recommendations based on improving the humaneness of the hunt and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is adopting these recommendations through further consultation with the Working Group and industry stakeholders.
In their report, the Independent Veterinarians' Working Group on the Canadian Harp Seal Hunt concluded: "the Canadian harp seal hunt is professional and highly regulated by comparison with seal hunts in Greenland and the North Atlantic. It has the potential to serve as a model to improve humane practice and reduce seal suffering within other hunts."
I agree with the April 2007 findings of House of Commons Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. The Canadian seal harvest is a humane and sustainable activity. It is an important part of the economic, cultural and social fabric of Canada’s East coast and the North and has a crucial role in achieving and maintaining an ecological balance with other marine species. I encourage your readers to have an objective look at all the material that your publication presents regarding this issue and then come to their own conclusions.
Hon Lorna Milne,