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If Only One Could Support The Canadian Seal Hunt Without Giving Up Scotch!

March 10, 2010

A 19th century seal hunt in Newfoundland. Public domain illustration by Percival Skelton.

I’m as enthusiastic a supporter of the seal hunt as anybody. I think the European and American bans on Canadian seal products are prissy and hypocritical, and I hope that sealing continues in Canada for the rest of my lifetime and beyond. Hell, I think we should go back to setting quotas for whitecoats – very young harp seals – since it’s not like sparing their adorable little lives for a couple of weeks got the European animal welfare Nazis off our backs anyway. But even I have to draw the line somewhere. Frankly, I’m not sure I believe in sealing strongly enough to give up Guinness. And scotch. And the occasional glass of Stella Artois, Newcastle Brown, Jameson’s whiskey (spelled with an “e” because it’s Irish)… No. Definitely a bridge too far.

If you’re thoroughly puzzled by now, I’m referring to an initiative by Nunavut MLA Fred Schell, who proposes that Nunavut boycott liquor from the EU in retaliation against the seal product ban. Although the Inuit who make up the majority of Nunavut’s population are supposedly exempt from the ban anyway, on the grounds that seal hunting is part of their indigenous tradition, they are apparently suffering collateral damage:

Alain Belle-Isle, a spokesman for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said the full effect of the ban on the seal trade industry is still unknown. However, Mr. Belle-Isle said that “by putting a trade ban, you’re affecting the entire infrastructure [the Inuit] rely on to market their products. The Inuit have said pretty clearly in the past that this will not work.”

I obviously understand their frustration, but I’m not sure that boycotting EU liquor is a particularly good strategy. For one thing, the EU is already muttering about whether the boycott might violate WTO rules (even as Canada challenges the seal product ban on the same basis). For another, the various European countries – if not the bureaucratic monstrosity of the EU per se – are good friends to Canada in many respects, and it would be a mistake to let the dispute over sealing escalate into a major problem in these transatlantic relationships. This should apply just as much to Nunavut, which has the Danish possession of Greenland for a neighbour, as to the rest of Canada.

While I certainly wouldn’t condemn any of my fellow Canadians who might decide to follow Schell’s lead and kick the EU out of their liquor cabinets, I think a more sensible approach is to simply sell our seal products elsewhere. Fisheries Minister Gail Shea is doing the right thing by looking to China, which bought more than $1.1 million worth of seal fats and oil – and an uncertain quantity of clothing made from seal pelts – from Canada in 2009.

However, I suspect there’s probably untapped potential in the domestic market as well. Enough Canadians support seal hunting that our elected representatives seem to see a positive stance as a political winner: this very day, seal meat is being served in the parliamentary restaurant as a gesture of solidarity with sealers. An Ipsos-Reid poll in 2005 found that about 60% of Canadians supported the hunt to some degree, which indicates that a good proportion of the population ought to be open to buying seal products and perhaps even enthusiastic about the idea.

The only snag is that it may not be all that easy for them to do so. When I tried searching the web for things like “sealskin jacket” and “seal leather”, the only online product catalogue that came up was from Petit Nord, a Danish company that explicitly complains about “the Canadian seal hunters’ undue methods of hunting” and gets all of its pelts from Greenland (no exemption for the Canadian Inuit there). The Canadian Sealers Association website has a products page that talks about meat, oil and pelts, and says that Jean Chrétien owns a seal leather briefcase, but the page doesn’t tell you where you can obtain seal products for yourself – apart from a link to Vogue Furriers of St. John’s, and their site seems to be defunct.

I’m sure there are places in Canada where one can pick up a sealskin coat at the local furrier’s, but in my opinion the industry is still suffering from a failure of marketing. I don’t have much room for a fur coat or for harp seal oil capsules in my life, but if I could go online and purchase a sealskin belt or a pair of gloves at a reasonable price I would do so in a second and feel very good about it. Considering the level of political support for seal hunting, I’m sure I’m not the only one. Gail Shea’s saleswomanship in China is very welcome, but sometimes the process of finding new markets begins at home.

UPDATE (March 13): Chris Selley gets the debate over the seal hunt exactly right in the National Post. And across the pond, Antonia Senior takes an unflinching look at the hypocrisy of only protesting the slaughter of animals that happen to be cute.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Bud permalink
    August 9, 2010 12:31 pm

    Yeah I hear ya man. If you ever hear of a good place to buy seal skin products in Vancouver be sure to post. I have a harbor seal humerus that I found on Catalina Island. It’s actually illegal to possess this. Lame.

  2. jeff permalink
    May 6, 2010 3:56 am

    Its funny how people want to ban seal hunting that its a slaughter what about cows and pigs and other animals.but thats ok to kill them cause we all need to eat,so why dont you hippy tree huggin bastards boycott texas for the cruel and inhumane slaughter of cows pigs chickens.and every where else.find something else to bitch about

  3. Adnora permalink
    March 29, 2010 2:08 pm

    An extremely cruel and extreme position. Seals must “accomplish” by whose measure in order to deserve to survive? The arrogance is astounding! I will boycott all Canadian travel and all Canadian products as this country is showing itself to be perhaps the most barbaric one on earth.

    • corsullivan permalink*
      March 31, 2010 11:35 am

      To be clear, I’m not suggesting that my dismissive attitude towards animal suffering is typical of Canadians. On the contrary, we have quite strict and squeamish animal welfare laws, and the seal hunt is heavily regulated to minimise suffering. Studies suggest that it’s no more “cruel” than other forms of hunting and trapping – it’s just a bit messier, perhaps, and takes place in the open where it can be easily filmed and photographed. And of course, seals are cute.

      If you’re going to boycott Canada because of seal hunting, you really ought to boycott a number of other countries that permit far more brutal activities to take place. At a minimum, I would suggest Spain and much of Latin America for bullfighting, Japan for whaling, large swathes of southern Asia (and Latin America again) for cockfighting, and Vietnam and China for bear bile farming. I’ll look forward to hearing how this works out for you.

  4. someone permalink
    March 26, 2010 9:45 am

    you disgust me how can you sopport somyhing so cruel and stupid how would you like to be sleeping and then some one smashes a hakapike on your head and if you survived that then you would prabably be skined ALIVE and i hope that you one day sufer the pain that those porr defence less seals had to go throght and mabe then you wont be so stupid and you wont sopport somthing so stupid and cruel

    • corsullivan permalink*
      March 26, 2010 12:52 pm

      Actually, I’ve given some thought to things like this.

      If I were going to be killed, the method and the amount of suffering involved wouldn’t matter to me that much, at least up to a certain point. I wouldn’t really care whether I slipped into oblivion instantly, or had to suffer agonising pain for a few minutes, a few hours, or even possibly a few days. What I’d really be upset about would be the brute fact that my existence had been terminated – I would regret the things I wouldn’t get to accomplish, and the thoughts I wouldn’t get to think.

      Since I doubt that seals think about or accomplish much of anything, I consider their individual lives to be literally valueless. I don’t want any of the various seal species to go extinct, since I appreciate biodiversity and happen to think they’re beautiful and interesting animals anyway, but as long as they aren’t wiped out I don’t much care how people treat them. Bring on the hakapiks.

      I recognise, of course, that this is a rather extreme position.

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