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…

This video, narrated by Sheryl Fink of International Fund for Animal Welfare, was shot during the first day of the commercial seal hunt off the coast of Newfoundland and shows the cruelty inherent in the annual slaughter. On the video are violations of Marine Mammal Regulations, but even more troubling are the acts of brutality to seal pups which are perfectly legal and acceptable under the Marine Mammal Regulations.

The Canadian government claims the commercial seal hunt is “tightly regulated” and “closely monitored.” Each year, however, hours of video footage is compiled by lawful observers which prove those claims are false.

The seal hunt is regulated in the sense there exists a set of Marine Mammal Regulations to which sealers are supposed to adhere. However, the Regulations are woefully inadequate and do not ensure acceptable animal welfare standards are met. Even the much-heralded “3-step process” does not meet international veterinarian standards for humane slaughter. Let me put it this way — it is perfectly legal under the Marine Mammal Regulations for sealers to impale conscious seal pups through the face or other body part with large metal hooks and drag them across the ice, before throwing them onto a boat and finishing them off with a club. Does that sound humane to you? It is not.

The government’s other claim — the commercial seal hunt is “closely monitored” — is also BOGUS. I guess it all depends on their definition of “monitored.” IFAW reported that during the first day of the killing spree, DFO Enforcement was nowhere in sight. Sealers were routinely violating the Marine Mammal Regulations and DFO was not present to monitor or enforce those Regulations.

This is nothing new.  Each and every year sealers violate Marine Mammal Regulations and inflict unimaginable agony on defenceless seal pups, while DFO Enforcement looks the other way.  Oftentimes, DFO is too busy keeping an eye on lawful licenced observers to actually do their job and monitor the killing.

I urge everyone to contact Canada’s Minister of Fisheries Gail Shea and ask her how she can possibly continue to insist the commercial seal hunt is humane and it clearly isn’t.  Tell her the evidence is irrefutable.  Tell her we are tired of the Canadian government misinforming the public as to the true nature of the cruel commercial seal hunt.  Tell her it must end now.  Her contact info is as follows:

Email: min@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Twitter: @CPCGailShea

Tomorrow I will post more ways you can help Canada’s seals.

WOW. A federal party leader tells voters he wants to continue wasting their tax dollars on a cruel and unprofitable industry nobody needs or wants; and the voice of one million Canadian voters is silenced by a consortium of television broadcasters when Green Party leader Elizabeth May was excluded from leader debates…today was a huge FAIL for democracy in this country.

TV Broadcast Consortium decides what Canadian voters are allowed to see and hear

DEMOCRACY DENIED: Elizabeth May excluded from leadership debates

The Green Party appeared today before the Federal Court of Appeal to challenge a decision of a broadcast consortium to exclude Green Party leader Elizabeth May from televised party leader debates occurring on April 12th and 14th. Federal Court Justice Marc Nadon, after hearing arguments from both sides, refused a judicial review prior to the debates.

This is a flashback to 2008 when the broadcast consortium (comprised of CBC CBC/Radio-Canada, CTV, Global and TVA), which has no set rules and makes decisions on the fly, shut May out of the debates but later relented as a result of a huge public outcry. There is an even bigger outcry this time, but it appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

There are so many things that disturb me about this, I scarcely know where to begin. The consortium is claiming the Green Party doesn’t get a seat at the debate because it holds no seats in Canada. Is that relevant? The Green Party received one million votes in the 2008 election – clearly there are MANY Canadians who want to hear what Elizabeth May has to say. Voters have a right to hear plans and opinions of all major party leaders on all important issues facing this country. And yet…our rights are being violated by a group of TV broadcasters?!?!

Secondly, the lawyer for the consortium alleged that if May were included in the debate, the other leaders wouldn’t attend the debate and there would be no debate. What’s going on here? Party leaders originally told the consortium they didn’t want May in the debate but seemed to relent, announcing they didn’t mind if she attended. At least that’s what they said publicly. What they said in private must have been something quite different, prompting the consortium’s legal counsel to state they would likely not participate in the debate if May were included. Do we really want to elect a leader who will not engage in meaningful debate and who conspires to silence the voice of one million Canadians and deprive Canadian voters of the opportunity to hear what the Green Party has to say?

And then of course there’s the ludicrous fact that the leader of a political party running in ONLY ONE PROVINCE gets a seat at the debate table, while a registered political party with candidates running all across the country is refused a seat…surreal.   Someone actually responded to one of my many tweets on this subject today, saying “You can’t force other people to listen to your message.”  This isn’t about forcing anyone to listen.  This is about democracy and freedom of speech.  Personally, I don’t want to listen to Harper (or any of the other leaders, for that matter) drone on and on but I would defend his right to take part in the debates.  It’s democracy – something that is becoming alarmingly scarce in this country.  Polling is showing the majority of Canadians want Elizabeth May at the debates.  Anyone who feels they are being “forced” to listen to the Green Party can use the mute button on their remote when it’s May’s turn to speak ;)

Elizabeth May has now asked other party leaders to “step up and demonstrate that they believe in the principles and the practice of a healthy democracy by telling the consortium that there will be no debate without me.“  It will be most interesting to see how the other party leaders will respond to this.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth May is embarking on a cross-country series of rallies.  She’ll be here in Halifax on Saturday, April 9th from 12 – 1 pm at Sackville Landing, 1655 Lower Water Street, Halifax.  I’m looking forward to attending that event and showing my support for the Green Party and for democracy.  I hope to see you there!

Michael Ignatieff: “Screw you, Canadian Taxpayers! I Want the Sealing Vote!”

Iggy giving the thumbs up while trying to keep the gag reflex down

CBC reported today that Conservative candidate for St.John’s South-Mount Pearl, Loyola Sullivan, had complained BC Liberal MP Hedy Fry was plotting to shut down the commercial seal hunt and demanded Ignatieff denounce Fry’s intentions.
Loyola Sullivan was formerly Canada’s Ambassador for Fisheries Decimation Conservation and was part of a Canadian delegation at the public hearing held in Brussels, where speakers made their case for and against commercial seal hunting.  Sullivan’s group was present to promote the inherently inhumane Canadian commercial seal hunt as a humane and regulated activity, yet could not bring himself to watch video footage of the killing as it was shown to the hearing by Humane Society International.  According to an eyewitness in the room, Sullivan averted his face until the video had finished.

It was not surprising that Sullivan would indulge in such cheap pandering to the rabid pro-sealing vote in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Nor was Ignatieff’s response to the challenge surprising.  In a statement published on the Liberal Party website, Ignatieff reiterates his support for the commercial seal hunt and his intention to continue to support and defend it.

What was surprising, however, was the tired old chiches and clear ignorance of the issue contained in the official statement.  Using words like “humane”, ‘sustainable”, “traditional” and “commercially viable” are used.  Seriously?  Really?  Wake the hell up, man.

Michael Ignatieff shows a woeful ignorance of the issue.  I have witnessed the commercial seal hunt over the past five years and I find it incredibly offensive he blindly insists the killing is humane.  He has never personally witnessed it, and I suggest he do so this year before even attempting to make such claims.  Likewise, I suggest he look into the finances, comparing the millions of dollars required to keep the failing industry afloat versus the paltry “profits” generated, before considering calling it sustainable and commercially viable.  And of course he drags the Inuit into it, referring to “Aboriginal and fishing communities” and a “subsistent hunt.”  Iggy is enthusiastically pimping out Inuit for the pro-sealing vote, just as Harper’s government has been doing.

Of course, while Ignatieff is banging on about supporting the sealing industry and commercial sealers, what he’s really saying is “Screw you, Canadian taxpayers” since it is the Canadian taxpayer who will be doing the actual supporting of the failing industry and the savage sealers.  Polling consistently shows the majority of Canadians oppose the cruel seal slaughter and object to their tax dollars being used to fund it.  Yet every year the federal government lavishes millions on the crumbling industry.  Seemingly, Ignatieff is prepared to throw good money after bad and continue funding the brutal activity using an unlimited supply of tax dollars from an unwilling Canadian public.  Shame.

DFO has long denied the Canadian government subsidizes the commercial seal hunt.  On its webpage Canadian Seal Harvest – Myths and Realities it makes the following claim:

DFO does not subsidize the seal harvest. Sealing is an economically viable industry. Some subsidies were provided prior to 2001 for market and product development, including a meat subsidy, to encourage full use of the seal.

$100,000 govt subsidy to Canadian Seal Marketing Group to attend trade shows in China

So government says no subsidies have been given to the sealing industry since 2001.  And yet a recent review of grants and contributions over $25,000 reported on the website of federally-run ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) revealed two sizeable contributions made to the sealing industry as recently as 2010. 

The first subsidy was a $100,000 contribution made by the federal government on May 10, 2010 awarded to Canadian Seal Marketing Group of Little Catalina, Newfoundland.  The contribution was to “attend trade shows in Russia and China.”   The Canadian Seal Marketing Group is an organization comprised of GC Rieber Carino Ltd., a Canadian company located in Dildo, Newfoundland; NuTan Furs Inc. of Catalina, Newfoundland; and Ta Ma Su Seal Products Inc. of Quebec.

$50,000 govt subsidy to Sealer's Cooperative to develop business plan to flog "value-added" dead baby seals

The second subsidy was a $50,000 contribution made on September 11, 2010 to Northeast Coast Sealer’s Cooperative Society, Limited of Fleur de Lys, Newfoundland, to “develop comprehensive plan for value-added seal products.” 

The Northeast Coast Sealer’s Cooperative Society is no stranger to financial assistance from ACOA, as it participated in the ACOA-led Atlantic Canada “seafood and aquaculture” trade mission to China in 2007.

Between 1995 and 2000 the government of Canada and Newfoundland provided $20 million in subsidies to the sealing industry, including direct payments to sealers.

And of course each year there are subsidies in the form of services and infrastructure - Spotter planes and helicopters are used to locate seal pups and radio coordinates to sealers (Interestingly, DFO refuses to provide those coordinates to licensed observers).  Coast Guard icebreakers are used to forge paths to the seal pups for sealers.  One icebreaker – the Amundsen – reportedly costs $50,000 per day to operate in winter months.  Vessels and helicopters are also used to rescue sealers and their vessels in distress.  On the administrative side, DFO staff processes observation permit applications and interviews each applicant.

Photo: HSUS/Gray Mitchell

Our tax dollars have also paid for expensive international trips for politicians, sealers and Inuit representatives to lobby against the EU seal product ban.  In 2007 the Canadian government organized a tour by European journalists to Newfoundland & Labrador and the Magdalen Islands.  The tour allowed journalists to meet with sealers, sealing industry bullies and politicians to give what the Canadian government claimed to be the truth about the seal harvest.  Interestingly, the journalists were not invited to witness the actual “harvest” as it took place. 

So many subsidies, so little time to detail them all…In April of 2008 the Financial Post published an article penned by Toronto lawyer/journalist Murray Teitel setting out the vast sums of money the Canadian government lavishes on this crumbling industry.  The article, entitled The millions Ottawa spends subsidizing the seal hunt, is definitely worth a read.

Polling consistently shows Canadians oppose the annual slaughter, yet millions of our tax dollars are lavished on the failing industry each year.  It would actually cost less to implement a licence buyback program!  A recent poll conducted with Newfoundland sealers concluded 50% of sealers holding an opinion were interested in a licence buyout.

Photo: ACASC/Bridget Curran

I recently asked Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff whether the Liberal Party of Canada would be willing to help Atlantic Canadian sealers should they decide to lobby the government for a buyout.  He stated that if sealers wanted a licence buyout, of course the Liberal Party of Canada would help them get it.  This was the first time Ignatieff has formally stated he would assist sealers with a licence buyout, and is a promising sign.

The Canadian commercial seal hunt is an unprofitable venture, a drain on Canadian taxpayers and an embarrassment to us all internationally.  It’s time to stop throwing good money after bad and shut it down for good.