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Canada's Commercial Seal Hunt Is the Shame of Our Nation

04/11/2015 09:15 EDT | Updated 06/11/2015 05:59 EDT
Joe Raedle via Getty Images
CHARLOTTETOWN, CANADA - MARCH 31: A Harp seal pup lies on an ice floe March 31, 2008 in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence near Charlottetown, Canada. Canada's annual seal hunt is in its fourth day and the government has said this year 275,000 harp seals can be harvested. Many animal protection organizations have condemned the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans following its announcement of the 2008 commercial seal hunt quota . (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In the coming days, Canada's commercial seal hunt -- the largest slaughter of marine mammals on the planet -- will open off the coast of Newfoundland.

Many Canadians, and millions more concerned individuals watching around the world, hoped the hunt would not go ahead this year, given the low global demand for seal products. But for the third time in the past four years, the Newfoundland government is providing a multimillion-dollar bailout to commercial seal processors in a pointless attempt to prop up the dying sealing industry.

The announcement comes in the wake of controversial cuts to thousands of the province's crucial public service jobs, in sectors such as healthcare and education. It is shameful that the provincial government is attempting to curry favour with the marginal sealing industry, which employs only a few hundred part time workers each year, even as thousands of essential jobs are eliminated.

Disturbingly, the funds will be used to purchase the skins of baby seals that have been brutally clubbed and shot to death, and all to supply markets that no longer exist.

To date, because of the inherent animal welfare and conservation concerns associated with commercial sealing, more than 35 nations have prohibited trade in products of commercial seal hunts, including: the United States, the 28-nation European Union, the Customs Union of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia; Mexico, Switzerland and Taiwan. And despite a multi-decade effort, and untold sums of money wasted by the Canadian government and sealing industry to market seal products in Asia, China has blocked a proposed deal to import Canadian seal meat.

Furthermore, the World Trade Organization has now twice upheld the right of the EU to ban commercial seal product trade, while the highest courts in Europe have repeatedly rejected legal challenges of the ban. The federal and provincial governments have sunk millions of tax dollars into these pointless legal cases.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian government announced just months ago that it would discontinue its practice of subsidizing the Norwegian seal hunt. Sadly, the Canadian government appears dead set on throwing good money after bad.

While the world community has clearly expressed its distaste for commercial sealing, Canada is increasingly ostracized for promoting this outdated industry. And for very good reason: this is a mass slaughter in which 98 per cent of the seals killed are defenseless pups less than three months old and are subjected to a level of graphic violence most adult people can't bear to even watch on video. Each year, Humane Society International films atrocities including conscious baby seals impaled on metal hooks, dragged across the ice and cut open; and wounded seal pups left to suffer in agony. Independent veterinarians say the commercial seal slaughter is inherently inhumane because of the harsh, remote environment in which the killing occurs and the speed at which the hunt must be conducted for commercial and safety reasons.

This will be my 17th year documenting the slaughter. This year, HSI will be the only animal protection group there to document what happens to the baby seals and expose their suffering to the world. As we head to the remote ice floes that are the scene of the hunt, I am frustrated by the knowledge that the profound suffering I am about to witness does not need to occur. Commercial sealers and their communities would be far better served by a buyout of the commercial sealing industry than senseless subsidies that can't make the seal hunt economically viable. A sealing industry buyout would involve the federal government ending the commercial seal slaughter, compensating sealers for retiring their licenses, and investing in economic alternatives. Notably, the funds required for a generous sealing industry buyout would be less than the money needed to keep the slaughter going with annual subsidies.

To be clear, HSI does not oppose subsistence sealing by Inuit people, an activity that is entirely separate from the commercial seal slaughter. In fact, we have worked closely with governments internationally to ensure that there are exemptions for the byproducts of traditional Inuit hunts in seal product trade bans. It is the industrial scale slaughter of baby seals for their fur that we are campaigning so hard to end.

And end it must. For as long as weeks-old pups are being shot, clubbed and skinned to produce fur items no one wants or needs, at taxpayers' expense, Canada cannot truly call itself a humane nation.

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