Mac Harb and the European Union Aim Deathblows at the Canadian Seal Hunt
Canada’s annual seal hunt is just getting underway, amid rain and fog and blowing snow. The coldest winds of all, however, seem to be blowing from the general direction of Brussels, as the European Parliament prepares to vote on a near-total ban on the importation of seal products from Canada and other countries.
Seal hunting, of course, has been drawing widespread fire since the mid-1960s. As a fascinating and relatively balanced older Canadian Geographic article on the seal hunt explains:
“…scenes of three-week-old whitecoat seals being clubbed to death in a slurry of blood and ice prompted a public outcry in Canada, the United States and Europe…The whitecoat, with its wide lustrous eyes and fluffy white fur, became an animal-rights symbol. Its ‘murderers’ were thoroughly demonized.”
What was then the European Community “banned products derived from seal pups” in 1983. Canada partly capitulated to the pressure in 1987 by forbidding the killing of whitecoats, or very young seals. The annual hunt for older seals has undergone tremendous regulation and scrutiny in the years since, and a 2002 paper by a team of veterinarians concluded that “a large majority of seals taken during this hunt… are killed in an acceptably humane manner”. Meanwhile, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the harp seal as a species of “least concern”, whose numbers have increased over the last few decades. Unfortunately, facts like this seem to be no match for images of baby seals going under the club, which organisations like the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) still use as a centrepiece of their campaigning. And now the EU, once the principal market for Canadian seal fur, is about to vote on banning our seal products almost entirely. The United States has had a similar ban since 1972.
Our Fisheries Minster, Gail Shea, is understandably threatening to retaliate through the WTO if the European ban goes ahead. However, Liberal Senator Mac Harb makes a strong case in Embassy magazine that the seal hunt is so economically marginal, and so damaging to Canada’s image, that we ought to simply shut it down. A cold-blooded calculation of Canadian interests would probably support this argument. Nevertheless, my instincts at the moment are in the direction of what the British call bloody-mindedness. I simply loathe the idea of completing our gradual surrender to a movement that never really had anything going for it beyond the cuteness of whitecoats and simple, contemptible squeamishness over the sight of gore.
European public opinion was perhaps the biggest single factor that led Canada to ban the hunting of whitecoats and tightly regulate the killing of older seals. If our “friends” in Brussels are going to impose a comprehensive ban anyway, we might as well ease the regulations and go back to killing a modest, sustainable number of whitecoats. Surely we can find non-European buyers for the resulting garments and other products, particularly in Asia. Or better yet… wouldn’t someone you love look good in a sealskin coat?