OTTAWA - Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is raising a ruckus in social media circles after posting a photo of a freshly killed polar bear on Twitter with the caption: "Enjoy!!"
And she did so while in Moscow where she is celebrating the 40th anniversary of an agreement on the conservation of polar bears.
Aglukkaq, an Inuk who was raised on the land, was relaying a message from someone in Arctic Bay, on Baffin Island, who boasted this week that his cousin had "caught his first polar bear" and included a photo of the dead, glassy-eyed carnivore.
Messages of protest and support quickly followed Aglukkaq's post.
"Really?? That is disgusting!" commented one follower.
"I understand the importance but HUGE BOOOO to you for posting the pic," said another.
The rejoinders were just as spirited.
"Look at all these paternalistic white liberals bashing an Inuk who hunted polar bear for food. #racist #shame," said one Aglukkaq supporter.
The controversy was magnified by the fact Aglukkaq, who is the current chairwoman of the intergovernmental Arctic Council, is in Russia for a summit of polar bear "range states" to mark the signing of a 1973 conservation convention.
Her office issued a press release Friday saying the meeting participants have "committed to ensuring aboriginal traditional knowledge is integrated into our polar bear management decisions."
It's not the first time the Conservative minister has tweaked the sensibilities of environmentalists and animal rights activists.
Aglukkaq, who has a polar bear skin displayed in her ministerial office, according to insiders, has also worn a seal skin coat in the House of Commons and publicly congratulated northern communities on successful whale hunts.
She has also questioned scientific studies suggesting polar bear numbers are threatened, citing anecdotal evidence from her brother in Nunavut.
Aglukkaq responded to her critics over the polar bear photo with a couple of follow-up Twitter postings.
"I will continue to stand up for Inuit and Northern communities who rely on the polar bear hunt," the minister wrote.
"Polar bears are culturally, spiritually and economically important for northerners."
Megan Leslie, the NDP environment critic, said in an interview Friday she takes no issue with Aglukkaq defending and promoting traditional ways of life. But she did question the minister's "judgment and balance."
Aglukkaq "has been so profoundly silent on climate change," said the New Democrat.
"Climate change is impacting polar bears and their habitat."
Moreover, said Leslie, Aglukkaq must recognize that she is "the face of Canada on the environment" to the world.
Leslie pointed to a recent public letter from Prime Stephen Harper's parliamentary secretary Paul Calandra that lauded Australia for killing its carbon tax — "basically saying 'nah nah nah nah nah!'" in Leslie's words — as another example of Conservatives pushing the buttons of international critics for no discernible benefit to Canada.
"I think (Aglukkaq) needs to put a little more thought into what she's doing and how she's presenting that face," said the NDP critic.
"Is it poking the international community in the eye? I don't think she necessarily thought that when she hit 'send,' but it's starting to have a cumulative effect."
The NDP critique elicited a blistering response from Aglukkaq.
"Frankly, this type of thinking highlights that the NDP have no respect for our traditional way of life and that they are more interested in pleasing foreigners than standing up for Canadians," Aglukkaq said in an email.
"Why shouldn't a young Inuk man celebrate catching a polar bear, which is our traditional source of food? That animal will be used to feed the entire community. It is something that has been celebrated for centuries and not ashamed of."