POLITICS

European court rejects Inuit bid to challenge ban on trade of seal products

09/14/2011 03:57 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:18 EST
HALIFAX - A court ruling in Europe has struck another blow to Canada's embattled seal products industry.

The European General Court, in a judgment released Wednesday, rejected a bid by Canada's largest Inuit organization to challenge the European Union's year-old trade ban on seal products.

The court in Luxembourg dismissed the group's case, saying the challenge from the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, several seal hunters and industry organizations was inadmissible.

Even though the EU ban exempts the trade in seal products from aboriginal groups, the Inuit say their markets will plummet along with the rest of the commercial industry unless the ban is overturned.

A spokesman for the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents Canada's 53,000 Inuit, said the group would comment on the ruling at a later date.

Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Canadian wing of Humane Society International, said the ruling "puts another nail in the coffin" of the commercial sealing industry.

"It's a very important ruling," she said in an interview from Strasbourg, France. "The ban remains in place and seals in Canada and around the world are going to be spared a horrible fate for many years to come."

Aldworth said her group would like to see the industry mothballed and all seal hunters offered compensation.

Animal welfare groups have long argued that the annual hunt off the East Coast has left a stain on Canada's international reputation because they believe the slaughter is inhumane.

"It's time that the Canadian government recognize that the writing is on the wall," said Aldworth, a Newfoundlander who has observed the hunt for more than a decade. "The commercial seal hunt is a dying industry."

In June, as the hunt drew to a close for another year, federal officials confirmed this season was one of the worst since the early 1990s, when the industry struggled to recover from a European ban on white pelts from young harp seals.

The total number of harp seals killed in the 2011 commercial slaughter was about 38,000 -- less than 10 per cent of the total allowable catch.

The EU ban was blamed for pushing down pelt prices to between $20 and $30 -- barely enough for seal hunters to cover the cost of fuel and insurance for their boats.

Still, the Canadian government is moving ahead with its own bid to challenge the ban through the World Trade Organization.

As well, the executive director of the Fur Institute of Canada, Rob Cahill, says the fight to save the industry will continue on another front.

He said the group that initially challenged the ban is disappointed with the latest ruling, but it is pursuing another court challenge aimed at the EU legislation that implements the ban.

As well, Cahill said some additional plaintiffs have joined the group's cause, including a Scottish manufacturer of sealskin sporrans, the traditional pouch worn with the Scottish kilt.

"He's found the restrictions are affecting his business in a big way," Cahill said.