Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq sparked debate Thursday by sharing a photo of a dead polar bear on Twitter and encouraging the hunters who killed it to "enjoy" eating the animal that some want declared endangered.
Aglukkaq then posted two other tweets expressing her support for the polar bear hunt.
1/2 I will continue to stand up for Inuit and Northern communities who rely on the polar bear hunt.— Leona Aglukkaq (@leonaaglukkaq) December 5, 2013
2/2 Polar Bears are culturally, spiritually and economically important for northerners.— Leona Aglukkaq (@leonaaglukkaq) December 5, 2013
Aglukkaq's tweet sparked plenty of discussion online, with some saying it was unacceptable and others arguing the hunt is a part of Inuit culture.
Story continues below slideshow
Aglukkaq, an Inuk who has represented Nunavut since 2008, is currently leading the Canadian delegation at the 40th Anniversary of the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears in Moscow, Russia.
The Tory MP has long argued that hunting the animal for food and clothing is an important aspect of culture for indigenous people in the North.
"Our Government is committed to proper conservation of the polar bear, while ensuring that the rights of Aboriginal peoples who continue to rely on the polar bear for food, clothing and livelihood are maintained and respected," she said in a statement this week.
In March, Canada helped block an attempt by the United States and other nations to impose an international ban on the trade of polar bear parts.
In a joint statement, Aglukkaq and then-environment minister Peter Kent said they defended "the Inuit way of life" on the international stage.
"Despite attempts to prevent Inuit hunters from being able to continue their traditional hunt, Canada was able to show the international community that there are effective measures already in place to manage the hunt here in Canada," it read.
But Aglukkaq also spurred anger in October when she seemed to doubt the bear is in decline in the Arctic and suggested research on the species is inadequate.
"A lot of time, scientists latch on to the wildlife in the North, to state their case that climate change is happening and the polar bears will disappear and whatnot," she told The Globe and Mail. "But people on the ground will say the polar bear population is quite healthy. You know, in these regions, the population has increased, in fact. Why are you [saying it’s] decreasing? So the debate on that … My brother is a full-time hunter who will tell you polar bear populations have increased and scientists are wrong."
Those comments echo Yukon Tory MP Ryan Leef's argument in a February letter to constituents that "pessimistic studies" from those who want to see the beloved bears declared endangered have been judged "unscientific and inconsequential" by researchers.
"The global polar bear population has quadrupled over the last 40 years," he wrote, pointing to a study described as bogus by climate and polar bear experts.
Environment Canada currently lists the polar bear as a "species of special concern," but many want the animals classified as endangered because of the threat declining sea ice poses to their survival.
In 2011, Kent said that Canada has a "unique conservation responsibility" when it comes to the iconic species because it is home to two-thirds of the global polar bear population.
"Listing the polar bear under the Species at Risk Act represents an important contribution to protecting our environment and the animals that live in it," Kent said in a statement.
Environment Canada says this country is home to approximately 16,000 of the estimated 20,000–25,000 polar bears in the Arctic. The department says climate change remains "the most important threat to their long-term range-wide security."
With files from previous stories.