Liberal Senator Mac Harb (Photo: THE MARK)

Today history was made in Ottawa.  Liberal Senator Mac Harb’s private member bill calling for the end of Canada’s commercial seal hunt was unanimously approved to pass for second reading.  Putting an end to Canada’s cruel and wasteful commercial seal hunt will FINALLY be debated in the Senate!

This is Senator Harb’s third attempt to get the bill through.  In 2010 He failed to find a seconder and the motion died a swift death.  In 2011 it was reported that Conservative Senator Lowell Murray seconded the motion but other senators voted against allowing the proposal to appear for discussion on the order paper.  Senator Harb, undeterred, returned for a third attempt and this time the motion was seconded by liberal Senator Larry Campbell and was then passed unanimously to move forward for second reading and debate.

Senator Harb’s bill calls for an end to the commercial seal hunt and compensation to be given to sealers.  The bill does not target or affect the Inuit subsistence hunt which is also exempt from the EU trade ban on seal products.

Reaction to this momentous event has been swift.  Humane Society International/Canada issued the following statement:

Senator Harb’s bill is timely and would effectively end the commercial seal slaughter in Canada. HSI/Canada further proposes that any legislation to end the seal slaughter be paired with a federal sealing industry buyout. This plan would involve the federal government ending the commercial seal slaughter, providing immediate compensation to sealers and investing in economic alternatives in the communities involved. Polling shows half of sealers holding an opinion are already in support of this plan and the overwhelming majority of Canadians are willing to fund it. Given sealers and other Canadians are willing to move beyond commercial sealing, it is time our government acted.”

The Green Party of Canada issued a press release which stated:

“The sealing industry had been dying for years,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “It’s time to stop providing life support to this disappearing industry by ending the massive government subsidies. Taxpayers’ money is better spent creating sustainable economic opportunities in coastal communities.”

International Fund for Animal Welfare issued the following statement:

Senator Harb’s bill is supported by public opinion polls that repeatedly show the majority of Canadians would like to see an end to the commercial seal hunt.  At the very least, the Canadian government should debate this issue on behalf of those citizens. It’s time.

When asked about the chances of the bill ultimately being passed, Senator Harb replied, “I’m a realist. I do believe the government and the Senate will not allow me to get it through. But I want to get the discussion going, whether they like it or not. That’s democracy.“   Whether or not this bill is ultimately successful, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind this marks a turning point in Canada.  As the Chronicle Herald pointed out:  “But the bill is another hint that the days of unwavering loyalty to the seal hunt are coming to an end.” 

Reaction from the pro-sealing camp has also been swift.  Sealing industry representatives have spoken against calls to end the unprofitable seal hunt, claiming Canada’s sealing industry is “very much alive and well.”  They provide some disingenuous facts to back up those dubious claims.

Here, they neglect to mention the profits and exports have been declining with each passing year.  In 2011 the seal hunt brought in under $1 million, a figure dwarfed by the millions of dollars the Canadian government spends each year to subsidize the annual slaughter.  As well, substantial markets to seal products have closed since 2005.  The EU banned seal products in 2010 and Russia – which accounted for 90% of exports – banned sealskins last August.  Markets in China, long-promised by the Canadian government, have not materialized.

Hmmmm, just a tad misleading to claim sealskin prices have increased this year when the Newfoundland government gave $3.6M to a processing company to buy all the seal skins to stockpile in case markets pick up in future!  And let’s not forget the sum in excess of $17,000 the government paid a St. John’s furrier to shill sealskin at a recent international fur expo at which the only country present that did have a trade ban on seal products was Canada!!

In my opinion, an industry with a dwindling profit margin relying on subsidies from Canadian taxpayers and bailouts from the federal and provincial governments just to keep afloat is clearly NOT “alive and well.”  In my opinion, that is a drain on taxpayers should should be ended.

But of course Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette is blaming it all on the Vegetarian Lobby armed with pointy carrots and a secret agenda to turn the world into tofu-eating tree-huggers. And she also wants to market seal meat for our cats and dogs.  Oh Senator.  Don’t you remember?  They tried feeding seal meat to minks on fur farms.  The minks all died.

A frank and honest discussion about Canada’s cruel and wasteful commercial seal hunt is long-overdue.  Let’s start talking!

Sealer about to beat to death 2- or 3-week old pup still almost completely covered in whitecoat Photo: Sheryl Fink/IFAW 2012

I was reading an article in the Ottawa Citizen this morning detailing how the government’s failure to set start dates for the commercial seal hunt in Newfoundland was causing wide-spread concern for the problems it would pose for rural towns along the east coast.  Featured in the article were doomsday-style quotes by Canadian Sealers Association executive Frank Pinhorn and Bonavista Mayor Betty Fitzgerald.  There were warnings about rapidly expanding hordes of voracious harp seals patrolling the coastline devouring all the cod and dire predictions that if the the hordes weren’t ”controlled” (read: slaughtered via club, hakapik and rifle) the fish would disappear and so would all the jobs on the east coast.

It is difficult to discern if Pinhorn and Fitzgerald are honestly deluded about seals and cod, or are guilty of wilfully spreading misinformation. In any event, both are incorrect in their recent statements to media.

Pinhorn speaks of the “growing seal population,” claiming it is at a record-high of nine to 10 million, while Fitzgerald insists the seal population must be controlled to protect fish stocks. Both Pinhorn and Fitzgerald need to read the latest Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat’s Science Advisory Report in which DFO scientists Mike Hammill and Garry Stenson advise the harp seal population is declining, with a current population of approximately 7 million individuals, and accordingly, the Total Allowable Catch should be reduced by 25%.  There has never been credible science supporting these wild claims that seals are preventing fish stocks from rebounding after years of gross human overfishing.  In fact, for those who bother investigating the issue, there is an emerging wealth of information to the contrary.

Fitzgerald and Pinhorn are guilty of the sort of irresponsible scaremongering that promotes the misconception seals must be culled to protect fish stocks. In truth, science indicates seals play an important role in our complex marine ecosystem and should be protected for the overall health of our oceans. Fitzgerald and Pinhorn would do well to quit the melodrama and stick to the facts.

In terms of claims that “lack of an April seal hunting season could pose a problem for rural towns along the coast,” the only problem the cancellation of the 2012 Newfoundland harp seal hunt poses is the sealers would miss out on their annual beer-swilling baby seal-bashing social event.  As one sealer told Paul Watson years ago, “Every year we gets to go out on the ice, get away from the old lady, drink beer with the boys and whack seals” and as sealer Desmond Adams told media a few years ago, “We all go out for the love of it rather than the money, which isn’t there anymore.”  This is not a commercial seal hunt or a hunt for subsistence – this is a yearly social event for people who love beating and shooting to death screaming seal pups.  And Canadian taxpayers are footing the bill.  That, to me, is a very real problem.

Just when you think the ‘Ottawa Loves Baby Seal Killers’ Farce couldn’t get any more bizarre…it does.  The government does something else that makes rational Canadians groan in embarrassment and shake their heads.

“On February 2nd, 2012, all Members of Parliament in the House of Commons will have an opportunity to support Canada’s northern and coastal communities” proudly read the press release issued yesterday by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.  “As a sign of support for the individuals who rely on the sustainable seal harvest in Canada, we are asking all Members of Parliament to show their support by wearing a seal fur lapel pin in the House of Commons on February 2nd, 2012.”

What, no seal meat?  No seal pâté on tiny pastry cups?  No seal ragout served in crystal bowls?  No bacon-wrapped seal loin with port reduction?  Not a terrine or rillette in sight.  Not even a sausage.  Just little fuzzy pins.  Apparently seal is off the menu again in Ottawa.  Maybe after privately hurling back up the seal meat they’d choked down for the cameras in 2009, MPs realized there are limits to which even they will go for sealers.

Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield playing the Inuit Card to blur the line between Inuit subsistence hunt and Atlantic commercial seal hunt.(Photo courtesy DFO)

This “Day of the Seal” or whatever nonsense they were calling it is clearly just another cringeworthy PR stunt put on by the Canadian government to show token support for the doomed commercial sealing industry.  And as per usual the government is playing the Inuit card, blurring the line between large-scale industrialized Atlantic commercial seal hunt and traditional Inuit subsistence hunt (that is, if you consider sitting in a truck listening to music waiting for the seal in the net to drown “traditional.”  BTW, the Canadian Veterinarian Medical Association opposes drowning seals in nets as “drowning is considered to be a protracted and, therefore, inhumane form of death”), which are two separate issues.

The press release continued “Sealing is an important economic and cultural driver in Canada’s eastern, arctic and northern communities.”

Arctic and northern communities?  Not so much.  The Inuit have nothing whatsoever to do with the commercial seal hunt.  They do not participate in the commercial seal hunt – theirs is a different hunt targeting a different species of seal.  The Inuit are exempt from the EU seal product trade ban which applies to commercial seal products, and the Nunavut government pays Inuit seal hunters an upfront, guaranteed price for seal skins under its Fur Pricing Program.

But the Inuit have allowed themselves to be drawn into this issue and whored-out pimped-out used by the Canadian government in a cynical attempt to fool or emotionally blackmail (hey, whichever works for them) Canadians into accepting the commercial seal hunt as a traditional subsistence hunt when it is most decidedly not.

HUMANE?? Photo R. Aldworth/HSI

These ploys are deeply offensive to the majority of Canadians, who are opposed to the annual slaughter and object to their tax dollars being used to defend and sustain it.

The press release stated, predictably: “Sealing is an important economic and cultural driver in Canada’s eastern, arctic and northern communities. It is a long-standing and integral part of Canada’s rural culture and a way of life for thousands of Canadians.”

No, in actual fact, the commercial seal hunt is a marginal activity involving a tiny fraction of the population of Atlantic Canada.  It is an unsustainable pastime that brings in very little revenue, cannot survive without massive subsidies from Canadian taxpayers, and could easily be replaced with a number of viable alternatives.

Liberal Senator Mac Harb seemed to be the sole voice of reason in Ottawa today.  Senator Harb said, “The Conservative government is holding yet another photo op instead of being upfront about the end of the commercial seal hunt.  The government must tell sealers the truth. The market is dead.”

Senator Harb is quite correct.  The commercial sealing industry is dead.  It’s been dying a slow death for the past few years and it’s time to do the right thing and let it go.  It’s time the Canadian government admits this, stops wasting our tax dollars on embarrassing photo-ops, emotional rhetoric and futile WTO challenges, and moves ahead with a licence buyout which would be a long-lasting solution benefiting everyone, including commercial sealers, Canadian taxpayers and Canada’s international reputation.

 

Senator Mac Harb, lone voice of reason in Canadian Senate, is calling for action on behalf of imperiled grey seals (photo credit: Erik Brush/CC)

I recently received an email from the office of Senator Mac Harb.  Senator Harb seems to be the lone voice of reason within the Canadian Senate.  It seems all other senators are blindly chanting the “SEALS MUST DIE!” mantra of the Harper government, following along like sheep with a scheme that will see over 140,000 grey seals slaughtered under the guise of a “targeted removal” but what is actually a vote-grabbing make-work project for sealers disgruntled at collapsed commercial markets for seal products.

And it is in the hands of the Senate Committee that the fate of grey seals lie.  The Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is currently studying the issue and has already heard testimony from DFO officials as well as former members of the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (the politically-appointed organization that recommended the experimental slaughter of grey seals). 

Scheduled to appear next week are the president and executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association. 

Notably, there is no indication the Senate Committee will hear testimony from leading scientists speaking against the cull.  Effectively, the Committee is only hearing one side of the argument.  But that is nothing new for this government.  There have been numerous allegations that while discussing the grey seal predation issue, scientists opposed to a cull were removed and replaced by those willing to adhere to the Harper government’s political agenda.

Incidentally, during DFO’s testimony to the Senate Committee, David Balfour, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Fisheries Management for DFO suggested all seal carcasses would be dumped in the water since there are currently no markets for seal products…So…not only unscientific, inhumane and unsustainable, but also wasteful…

I’ve copied and pasted the text of Senator Harb’s email below and have also set up an action page on the Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition website which lists all email addresses you will need to write to the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

You can also get updates on this issue at the Coalition website.

======

Dear Friend,

The Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has recently begun a study that could result in the killing of 70,000 grey seals off Canada’s East Coast.

The Fisheries Minister is pushing federal scientists to justify the slaughter of seals through contrived studies and one-sided hearings for political reasons. He has decided to ignore factors such as the impact of uncontrolled foreign overfishing in the waters off our coast and the total lack of scientific proof that seals are affecting the cod’s recovery.

The committee is considering an irresponsible cull that could, in my view, have serious negative impact on the Atlantic ecosystem and the long term health of many species, including cod. This slaughter would also result in untold costs to taxpayers and to Canada’s international reputation.

I have called on the committee to do due diligence and gather scientific evidence from all sides of this issue, not simply the studies that fit in with the unjustifiable goal of killing 70,000 seals. I urge you to write to the committee and its members who can be contacted through the Committee website http://senate-senat.ca/pofo-e.asp.

The government needs to know how Canadians and people around the world feel about this indefensible slaughter.

Sincerely,

Hon. Senator Mac Harb

Chers amis,

Le Comité sénatorial permanent des pêches et océans a récemment entrepris une étude qui pourrait entraîner la mise à mort de 70 000 phoques gris au large de la côte Est du Canada.

Le ministre de Pêches et Océans pousse ses scientifiques à justifier l’abattage de phoques par des études peu crédibles et des avis tendancieux pour des raisons politiques.

Il a décidé de ne pas tenir compte de divers facteurs, comme les répercussions de la surpêche étrangère non réglementée dans les eaux internationales au large de nos côtes et l’absence totale de données scientifiques qui prouvent que les phoques menacent réellement le rétablissement des stocks de morue.

Le Comité examine la possibilité d’un abattage irresponsable qui pourrait, à mon avis, avoir de graves répercussions sur l’écosystème de l’Atlantique et sur la santé à long terme de bien des espèces d’animaux, dont la morue. Non seulement ce carnage serait très coûteux pour les contribuables, mais il porterait aussi atteinte à la réputation du Canada sur la scène internationale.

J’ai pressé le Comité de faire preuve de précaution et de rassemble et d’examiner les preuves scientifiques de toutes les parties concernées, et non uniquement les études qui viennent appuyer un objectif injustifiable, celui d’abattre 70 000 phoques. Je vous exhorte à communiquer avec le Comité et avec ses membres. Écrivez-leur sur le site Web du Comité en cliquant http://senate-senat.ca/pofo-f.asp.

Le gouvernement doit connaître l’opinion des Canadiens et des gens du monde entier sur ce carnage indéfendable.

Sincères salutations,

L’hon. Mac Harb, sénateur

If anyone had any illusions the Canadian government is being truthful about the commercial seal hunt, those illusions surely have been shattered this past week.  I grew up knowing the commercial seal hunt was wrong, the killing was cruel and the whole disgusting business was unnecessary.  My grandmother, originally from a remote island known as Rams Island (later renamed Iona before being cleared and its inhabitants moved to the mainland) in Newfoundland, disagreed with my view, and I remember bitter words being spoken on the subject.  But when I actually witnessed the killing for myself for the first time in 2007 it struck me – the Canadian public has truly been betrayed by the Canadian government.  The Canadian government uses our taxes to fund the killing and misleads us in regard to every single aspect of the sadistic practice, while branding people like me – who have seen the slaughter with their own eyes – liars.  I have never lied about what I have witnessed in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  The Canadian government is the guilty party.  Here are just a few of the many lies told by our government:

LIE #1: Baby seals aren’t killed.  THE TRUTH:  Oh yes, they are – even protected whitecoats and bluebacks are killed by sealers.

This seal pup is almost completely covered in white fur and was likely 14 days old when it was killed. Not even eating solid food, still very much a baby. Photo Frank Loftus/HSUS 2011

The Canadian government claims all seals killed in the commercial seal hunt are self-reliant adults.  In actual fact, seals targeted during the commercial seal hunt are between the ages of 12 days and three months, with most being under one month of age.  Many, like the pup in the photo here, are still almost completely covered in white fur at the time of their death.  At this age they are not swimming, nor are they eating solid food.  Recently weaned, they live on fat reserves built up from their mom’s milk until they’re ready to leave the ice and swim away.

In truth, a seal can legally be killed once it begins moulting its whitecoat, which usually happens at about 12 days of age.   Recently weaned, unable to swim, escape or defend themselves against sealers, they are as helpless as babies and certainly are NOT the self-reliant adults DFO would like you to believe are the target of the commercial seal hunt.
The Canadian government is quick to point out that since 1982 it has been illegal to kill whitecoats (harp pups younger than 12 days) and bluebacks (hooded seal pups younger than 14 months).  This ban came into effect following an EU-wide ban on whitecoat seal products which caused the sealing industry to collapse.  The Canadian government has been silent on reports coming from observers that sealers were documented killing protected bluebacks.
 
LIE #2 – The commercial seal hunt is humane.  THE TRUTH – Every year observers compile hours of videotaped evidence sealers routinely violate woefully inadequate Regulations and inflict horrific cruelty on seal pups.
 

Conscious seal pups are stabbed through the eye socket and jaw with metal hooks and hauled onto boats - this is NOT illegal and is documented each year. Photo: Frank Loftus/HSUS 2011

I observed the commercial seal hunt from 2007 – 2010 and the horrors I witnessed will stay with me forever.  I was unable to travel to Newfoundland this year but have been following closely reports from Humane Society International/Canada and IFAW observers.   The reports have been grisly, to put it mildly.  Just a few instances:

  • Sealers failing to perform 3-step process, slicing open seal pups still alive and possibly conscious;
  • Seal pups showing conscious reaction to pain – voluntary movement – after being sliced open and hurled into the bottom of sealing boat;
  • Seal pups being shot in close proximity to each other as they desperately try to escape;
  • Seal pups being shot in the face, neck and back, suffering on the ice for long periods of time before boats reach them to finish them off;
  • Seal pups being shot on the ice and just left to die – sealers not even retrieving them from the ice – killing for sport;
  • Terrified seal pups being harassed and manhandled by sealers posing for photos.

 

This video, by International Fund for Animal Welfare, shows a seal pup sliced open and thrown into a boat, waving and clenching a front flipper in pain as it bleeds to death slowly in the bottom of the boat with other seal carcasses.

The bottom line is the commercial seal hunt cannot be conducted humanely.  Several factors prevent the annual kill from ever being humane.  The speed at which it is conducted (this year, in just one week 20,000 seals were killed by approximately 39 boats); extreme weather conditions; geographical location and inability of DFO Enforcement to monitor the killing to make sure killing is as humane as possible are just a few examples.  It is simply impossible for seals to be killed humanely during the annual seal kill and that’s one compelling reason the killing must be stopped.

LIE #3 - The commercial seal hunt is tightly regulated.  THE TRUTH – Regulations are inadequate to properly address animal welfare concerns and are not enforced by DFO.

HUMANE?? Photo R. Aldworth/HSI 2011

The Marine Mammal Regulations which govern the killing of seals in the commercial seal hunt are woefully inadequate to properly address animal welfare concerns.  For instance, the Regulations allow live and conscious seals to be hooked through the eye socket or jaw and dragged across the ice and into boats.  The Regulations allow pups to be shot and left, wounded and suffering, on the ice for extended periods of time before being killed by sealers.  Even the much-heralded 3-step process does not satisfy international veterinarian standards for humane slaughter.  The 3-step process, introduced by the Canadian government in 2008 as a cynical ploy to stave off a threatened EU-wide seal trade ban, is not even incorporated into the Marine Mammal Regulations; it is simply a licence condition.

In my years observing the seal hunt I saw many violations of the Marine Mammal Regulations.  From what I have been reading and seeing of this year’s slaughter, this could very well be the worst in terms of numbers of violations.  According to observers, sealers are routinely violating the Regulations and licence conditions – failing to perform the 3-step process, cutting into live and possibly conscious pups, using what appear to be illegal killing implements, killing protected hooded blueback pups, killing for sport, not landing the carcass or the pelt…the list goes on and on.  And throughout this brutal bloodbath, where is DFO enforcement?  That leads me to the next lie.

LIE #4 – The commercial seal hunt is closely monitored and enforced.  THE TRUTH – DFO does not monitor or enforce the killing of seals during the commercial seal hunt in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland.

Pups are routinely wounded with bullets and left suffering on the ice, waiting helplessly for sealers to come and beat them to death. Photo Frank Loftus/HSUS 2011

Observers at this year’s commercial seal hunt are reporting a distinct lack of DFO Enforcement presence in the killing zones.  While observers videotaped sealers committing Reg violations for hours, DFO was nowhere in sight.  This is nothing new.  During my years of observation, DFO was never around to document the killing.  Even when Coast Guard boats were in the vicinity, the sealers did what they liked with little or no regard for Regulations or even rudimentary animal welfare, while DFO looked the other way.   Each year observers submit hours of unedited footage to DFO showing clear violations of Marine Mammal Regulations.  Very few charges are ever laid by DFO as a result of this evidence given to them.

In various conversations I’ve had with DFO regarding the commercial killing of grey seals on islands in Nova Scotia, DFO has confirmed there is no constant monitoring of sealers as they kill seals.  In 2007 I was told by a DFO official, “We don’t stand there looking over their shoulder as they’re working” and in 2010 it was confirmed DFO visits periodically just to check up on things.  I’ve been advised by someone familiar with Nova Scotia sealers that the periodic DFO visits have more to do with bringing coffee for the sealers than actually monitoring the killing.

On Hay Island, a nature reserve in Nova Scotia, grey seal pups are herded together and beaten or shot to death mere inches from each other Photo R. Aldworth/HSI 2011

The truth is, even if DFO had the will to actually monitor the killing and enforce the Regulations, it is physically impossible to do so.  Even in the smaller Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, DFO has never been able to control the sealing boats and for years sealers killed above and beyond the Total Allowable Catch.  DFO admitted to reporters a few years ago it was very difficult to control the boats there.  If DFO staff cannot control boats in the relatively small Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, how can they possibly claim to be able to control boats in the much larger Northern Gulf or The Front?  In previous years, hundreds of boats participated in the commercial seal hunt.  In recent years that number has dwindled to a few dozen, but those boats are operating in an area the size of France.  DFO has a small number of vessels and limited staff – there is no physical way they can monitor the killing or enforce the law.  And yet each year they lie and claim that is precisely what they are doing!

As the reports come in daily and the videos and photographs are shared via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the Canadian government has fallen strangely silent.  Neither Fisheries Minister Gail Shea nor Prime Minister Stephen Harper have cared to comment publicly about their many falsehoods being exposed.  Of course they don’t care to comment, since they believe they don’t have to answer to Canadians, the majority of whom, polling consistently shows, oppose the annual slaughter and object to their taxes being used to fund it.  This is why more than ever, Canadians need to make the seal hunt a voting issue.

Coming tomorrow - Lies My Government Told Me (Part 2) dealing with more porky pies told by our government, including such chestnuts as ‘Full utilization of the animal’, ‘Sealing provides much-needed income to coastal communities’ and ‘Sealing is a time-honoured tradition.”  What a load of crap…

Photo Frank Loftus/HSUS

Yesterday marked the first day of the commercial seal hunt in Newfoundland, in an area referred to as The Front, and almost immediately the horror stories began to surface of the horrific cruelty being documented by licenced observers of the slaughter.

Sheryl Fink, Director of Seals Program for International Fund for Animal Welfare, reported sealers were not performing the 3-step process which is part of their sealing licence conditions, and at least one sealer was using what appeared to be an illegal weapon.  As well, she reported sealers were killing seal pups just for the sake of killing them, leaving their carcass and pelt on the ice for the birds to peck.  During these repeated violations of Marine Mammal Regulations, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Enforcement was nowhere to be found.

Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada reported witnessing pups being shot while in the water (a practice condemned by the Canadian Veterinarian Medical Association) and gaffed while still alive.  Again, DFO was nowhere to be seen.

These eyewitness accounts expose the despicable lies behind the Canadian government’s claims that the seal hunt is closely monitored and tightly regulated. This is video footage taken by HSI/Canada on the first day of the slaughter:

I observed the Canadian commercial seal hunt in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland from 2007 to 2010 and know full-well the agony these pups are suffering at the hands of the brutal Newfoundland sealers, and the trauma felt by observers having to bear witness to such despicable acts.  Although I could not be there this year, my heart is with the seals and I am helping to spread the information I’m getting online through Twitter and Facebook.

Please take action right now to help end this brutal slaughter. To find out how you can help, please visit the websites of IFAW and Humane Society International

Today – March 15th – is the Global Day of Action Against Sealing.  Rallies and demonstrations are being held all over the world to voice opposition to the cruel commercial hunting of seals.  Here in Halifax, we’ll be hosting a rally on Saturday, March 19th at 11 am at the Main Gates of the Public Gardens, corner of Spring Garden and South Park.

In the meantime, here are a couple of actions you can take on this Day of Action to help seals (or tomorrow, if you can’t get to them today):

1.  Tell Canada’s Minister of International Trade to drop the WTO challenge.  The Canadian government is determined to fight the EU seal product ban which will cost Canadian taxpayers a further $10 million and could put in jeopardy a trade deal presently being discussed by Canada and the EU.  HSI has other actions you can take to help seals – you’ll see them listed after you’ve sent your email to Canada’s Trade Minister.

2.  Contact your Member of Parliament.  Tell them you oppose the cruel commercial seal hunt, want to see it ended and would like to know their position on the issue.

According to The Navigator Online, Conservative MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, Scott Armstrong, moved to introduce a new bill yesterday that “will better protect Canadian sealers from angry anti-sealing protesters.”

NS MP Scott Armstrong gives thumbs-up to pathetic pointless posturing in the run-up to a federal election

In his introduction of Bill C-636, MP Armstrong said, “In fact, in 2008 the Canadian Coast Guard had to seize a vessel and arrest European activists who were putting sealers’ lives at risk by coming dangerously close to the hunt.“  He is referring to the incident in which the Canadian government claimed the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s vessel ‘Farley Mowat’ got too close to the hunt after sealers complained the Farley Mowat was ramming the ice upon which they stood as they beat to death defenceless baby seals.  The Farley Mowat was stormed and boarded by Gestapo RCMP, female crew members were roughly thrown down and held on the ground, and everyone was arrested and thrown in jail.  Eventually, Captain Alex Cornelissen and First Officer Peter Hammarstedt were found guilty of interfering with Canada’s seal hunt in Nova Scotia Kangaroo Provincial Court.

The Act seeks to amend the Marine Mammal Regulations to increase the distance non-licenced observers must stay from the seal hunt.  Currently anyone not in possession of an observation permit must stay a one-half nautical mile from sealers.  This Bill seeks to increase that distance to one full nautical mile.

My immediate reaction was righteous indignation.  Any distance restriction – and the very requirement to apply for an observation permit - is a gross violation of our Charter Rights as Canadians. 

However, upon reflection I decided to lighten up and have a chuckle at the sheer silliness of the business.  And let’s face it, there are so many shades of silly to this Bill that I hardly know where to begin.

NS sealer about to bludgeon terrified baby grey seal on Hay Island 2011 (Photo: Rebecca Aldworth/Humane Society International)

First of all, if “angry anti-sealing protesters” are so determined to approach sealers that they ignore the one-half nautical mile stipulation, such “dangerous radicals” certainly are not going to be deterred by an increase to that stipulation.  A half-nautical mile is quite a distance and really should be sufficient to keep unlicenced observers (or, “dangerous radicals” as Mr. Armstrong likes to refer to them) away from physical confrontations with sealers.  Considering ice conditions in the past few years, one would have to get alot closer than one-half nautical mile to cause mischief.  To increase the distance requirement to a full mile is overkill and just plain silly.  Not to mention the waste of taxpayers’ money.  But then, considering the millions of our tax dollars the government currently lavishes on this crumbling and unprofitable industry, what’s a few thousand more? *nudge nudge wink wink*

Secondly, Mr. Armstong has gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick.  Sealers don’t need protection from observers – observers are the ones in need of protection.  The only violence perpetrated by human against human on (and off) the ice is committed by sealers.  Although licenced observers must remain 10 metres away from sealers, there is no similar distance requirement for sealers, and they are free to approach and assault observers.  And they quite often do assault observers.  Where was Mr. Armstrong’s concern when a Newfoundland sealer attacked an observer with a hakapik (charges were stayed and the sealer agreed to make a $500 donation to a local food bank instead of going to court)?  Where was Mr. Armstrong’s indignation when Nova Scotia sealers chased an inflatible craft carrying observers through dangerous icepans, brandishing their rifles and threatening to shoot them?  But then, that’s right – Mr. Armstrong seems to care only for the safety of Canadian sealers.  He doesn’t seem to care about the safety of Canadian observers.  Perhaps Mr. Armstrong should give serious thought to his priorities and work instead to ensure the safety of Canadian citizens who observe and document the seal hunt each year, and propose to amend the Marine Mammal Regulations to impose a restriction on the distance sealers must remain from observers.  Nah, can’t see that happening.  After all, there are more sealers voting in the upcoming federal election than seal hunt observers.

This pup was shot, gagged through face and hauled across ice while still conscious by NS sealer Pat Briand in 2008 (Photo: IFAW)

And that’s the final point.  Armstrong’s proposed Bill is not about “…protecting our sealers on the very ice where they conduct the seal hunt”, nor is he being truthful when he claims  ”it is about protecting our sealers, and it is the right thing to do.  This is about pre-election posturing.  This is about sending the message to the fishing and sealing industry of Atlantic Canada that the Conservative Party of Canada has their “back”, truly cares about them and their families, and is willing to move heaven and earth to enshrine their right to bludgeon and shoot to death defenceless baby seals.  If Armstrong truly cared about sealers, he would stop the unproductive posturing and propose the abolition of the commercial seal hunt and the implementation of a licence buyout.

I wonder if Armstrong came up with this scheme on his own or if he was instructed to do so by Stephen “Dead Eyes” Harp(sealkill)er?  Either way, he should be ashamed of himself for such pathetic posturing.  It is highly unlikely this Bill will pass.  Private member bills rarely become law.   But then, whether or not it becomes law isn’t important to the Conservatives – it’s the optics, the illusion that the Conservative government cares enough about sealers to want to change the law to ensure their safety.

This video recently surfaced online and has sparked shock and revulsion internationally.   EITB.com, a Spanish-language online news website,  posted the video a few days ago under the heading ‘First day of seal hunting in Canada.’  Since its appearance, angry comments such as “Shame on you Canada!”, “Murderers!” and “This is absolutely disgusting” have been appearing beneath the video.  Have a look and you’ll see unspeakable cruelty and will understand why it has sparked such outrage.

The grainy video, branded with the ‘eitb’ logo, shows a sealer striking a seal pup repeatedly on its back and side as it rolls around on the ground, trying to dodge the blows.  It also shows a sealer shoot a pup inches from his nursery-mate, then chase the terrified second pup in circles as it tries to escape, covered in the blood of the dead pup.  DFO officials and Fur Institute of Canada director Pierre-Yves Dauost look on impassively as the terrified pup is harassed by the sealer for a full 30 seconds before being shot as it lies huddled against its dead nursery-mate.  In another scene, a frightened pup still half-covered in white fur tries to escape as a group of sealers kneel beside a dead pup in the background.  In yet another scene, a burly sealer savagely bashes in the head of a weeks-old pup a full six times with a hakapik.

HUMANE?? Photo R. Aldworth/HSI

The Canadian and Nova Scotian governments have claimed for years the killing of seals on provincial nature reserve Hay Island is done humanely.  This video taken just a few days ago disproves those claims.  There is nothing humane about the manner in which these pups were killed.  These scenes filmed on Hay Island are typical of the way harp, hooded and grey seal pups are killed in the commercial seal hunt across Atlantic Canada.

Daoust told media the experiment using low-calibre bullets was a success.  He then followed by saying everything must be done differently next year – the number of pups killed inhumanely must be reduced; a more destructive bullet must be used; and sealers must wait until the seal pup stops moving before pulling the trigger (these are wild animals, threatened and terrified – of course they’re not going to stop moving…).  This leads one to wonder, quite reasonably, how the experiment could be termed a “success”…

Canada is currently challenging the EU seal product ban at WTO, complaining there is no exemption for “humanely harvested seal products.”  Even if there were such an exemption, does Canada honestly think its seal products would qualify for such an exemption?  Watch the video and decide for yourself.

Photo HSI/R. Aldworth

Today was a truly awful day for grey seals.  The sealers descended on Hay Island early this morning and swung their clubs and hakapiks and shot their rifles until all moulted pups were dead.  Not content with that, they then shot at least one adult grey seal.

DFO was up to its old tricks trying to restrict observation of the Hay Island slaughter and as a result, by the time I got on the island, the sealers had finished their killing spree.  The carnage that I witnessed was heartbreaking.  As I walked across the island I saw small pups lying next to pools of blood where their nursery mates had been slaughtered right in front of their eyes.  I saw a massive bull that had been shot, lying close to a female and a whitecoat.  I saw a group of sealers laughing and smiling as they worked over a pile of carcasses, getting them ready to winch onto one of the sealing boats.

Photo: HSI/R. Aldworth

Thankfully, these unfortunate pups did not die without witnesses.  Humane Society International was on the island, as was media.  I have watched the video footage of HSI and reviewed their photographs and it was a horrible flashback to 2008 when I first witnessed the slaughter of grey seals on Hay Island.  Relentless repeated clubbing of terrified weeks-old pups in front of their nursery mates, whitecoats crawling through pools of blood, cuddling up to dead seals, not understanding what was happening…but there was something different this year – the testing of the low-velocity ammunition that the director of the Fur Institute of Canada/wildlife pathologist Daoust had wanted to conduct, claiming he thought this would be a more humane killing method.  Well, from what I’ve seen and heard, it’s definitely not humane.  Seals had to be shot multiple times, or clubbed after being shot.  One pup flailed about crying out in pain after being shot the first time and had to be finished off.  One sealer leisurely followed a group of terrified pups as they attempted to escape.  He took his time, advancing after them as they jostled against each other in panic to escape, before finally shooting one.  I saw a picture of one sealer tormenting a terrified pup as it sat next to a dead pup.  What sort of sick demented soul enjoys tormenting animals in this manner?  ‘Sick’ and ‘demented’ are two very apt words to describe Nova Scotia sealers. 

Photo: ACASC/B. Curran

My government has betrayed Nova Scotians again.  The provincial government must give permission for a slaughter to occur on Hay Island and each year they give that permission despite the clear evidence of cruelty and unsustainability.  Hay Island is a provincial nature reserve – it does NOT belong to commercial industry.  Hay Island is held in trust for us by the government.  The government has betrayed that trust time and time again.  Nova Scotians should be outraged about this and demand their government respect their wishes and protect grey seals in this province.

It is a comfort to know that most pups born on Hay Island this year escaped harm, having moulted and left the island before the sealers arrived.  It is also a comfort to know the grey seal hunt in Nova Scotia is just about finished.  Kill numbers have been decreasing in past years.  Baby seal killer Robert Courtney’s original claims of a buyer for the full quota of 1,900 never materialized.  If he’d had a buyer he would’ve been over to the island the moment DFO announced the official start date.  He wasn’t held up by weather every day – there was a window of opportunity and he didn’t take it.  It was a repeat of 2009 — no markets, no buyer, so a buyer was manufactured thanks to funding from the Fur Institute of Canada (and the federal government) to facilitate a “commercial harvest” and dubious scientific studies.  They needed to kill 100 seals for their experiment this year, and they killed approximately 100 seals.  What a coincidence.

Photo: ACASC/B. Curran

Gail Shea recently said, “To this end, the Hay Island grey seal harvest is properly regulated and effectively monitored, and those who break the rules are held to account.”  Reviewing the HSI video shot today, I saw violations of the Marine Mammal Regulations and saw no sealers “held to account” for those violations.  Shea is misleading the public into believing seals are hampering fish stock recovery and growing exponentially.  Neither is true.  Shea has the nerve to call us liars while she continues to spread untruths to Canadians.  She is the ultimate hypocrite and should be removed from her position immediately. 

There is no future for the sealing industry in Canada.  It is finished.  But the government fights on, with an endless supply of taxpayer dollars, lavishing millions on a crumbling industry that employs a tiny fraction of the population of the country, putting our international reputation, tourism industry and free trade talks with the EU at risk.  To continue killing seals flies in the face of science, logic and compassion.  There is simply no logic to it.  It is a grudge match, nothing more.  The Canadian government simply does not want to admit defeat and do the decent thing.

Tonight I reflect with sadness upon those poor souls slaughtered so mercilessly today on Hay Island and vow that in the coming year I will work harder than ever to ensure this never happens again.