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The Commercial Seal Hunt Must Be Stopped

11/11/2014 12:42 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST

I grew up in a small sealing town in Newfoundland, and for most of my adult life I've campaigned to end Canada's commercial seal slaughter. In all that time, I have never once opposed Inuit subsistence sealing, which happens at a much smaller scale, for different reasons, in another part of the country. Nor have I witnessed any other activist or group doing so.

And yet, if a handful of sealing advocates and federal politicians had their way, the world would believe that the animal protection movement has done little else than attack traditional Inuit sealing.

Last year, Ellen Degeneres posted a selfie from the Academy Awards. Part of the proceeds from the retweeting of that famous photo went to the Humane Society of the United States, specifically earmarked for their dog rescue work. That event had nothing, whatsoever, to do with seals. Yet a satirical "sealfie" campaign was born, with images of Inuit people eating seal meat and wearing seal fur disseminated to protest seal slaughter opposition from Degeneres and the HSUS. The fact that both oppose commercial sealing in Atlantic Canada and not the Inuit subsistence seal hunt didn't get in the way of the publicity stunt, nor the biased reporting that followed.

As the sealfie campaign began to pick up steam, mainstream news outlets told a story of urban-centric animal protection groups purportedly campaigning to stop aboriginal people from eating and wearing the products of their traditional hunt. Animal protection groups argued that they did not oppose Inuit sealing, and had actually worked to ensure exemptions for products of traditional Inuit hunts, but these arguments were inconvenient because they did not support the prevailing (and false) stories in the media.

I wish I was naive enough to think this was all just one big misunderstanding. But it's not. What has happened, and continues to happen, is a tactic commonly used in polemic debates, when one side is unable to defeat the actual position of their opponents. It's called a straw man argument, and it involves misrepresenting your adversary's perspectives so that you can successfully refute those distorted claims instead.

Commercial sealing advocates find it exceptionally difficult to win hearts and minds with the truth. Because the truth is an industrial scale, non-aboriginal slaughter in which defenseless seal pups less than three months of age are horribly beaten and shot to death for their fur. It is a wasteful kill, in which the carcasses are normally dumped at sea.

But if the commercial sealing industry could somehow blur the lines between the globally condemned commercial slaughter and Inuit subsistence sealing in northern Canada, perhaps the public would listen.

That is exactly what the sealfie campaign and its proponents have tried to do, with an aboriginal singer willing to go so far as to pose her newborn baby next to a dead seal to generate publicity. Months later, the same singer is using her ongoing tour to promote her dislike of animal protection groups (or is it the other way around).

But those who are using this tactic face one serious challenge. A straw man argument relies almost entirely on an audience ignorant of the facts. So as long as even a few journalists out there care enough about truth in reporting, the sealfie campaign will ultimately be exposed for what it is: a cynical ploy to appropriate aboriginal traditional lifestyles to sell a globally condemned commercial slaughter of baby seals. Maybe then we can finally get back to the issue at hand: why our government must shut down Atlantic Canada's commercial slaughter of baby seals forever.

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