06/14/2011 07:46 EDT | Updated 08/14/2011 05:12 EDT

Seal Hunt Has Repercussions for Canadians and the Economy

Evidence of outrageous cruelty and poor enforcement confirms that the Canadian government and the sealing industry continue to ignore concerns about inhumane killing raised by the European Union. And the repercussions to all Canadians -- and the Canadian economy -- could be severe.

When cruelty is normal, protecting trade bans and fighting for seals is crucial

As the 2011 commercial seal hunt winds down in Canada, the issue is once again heating up in Europe. To add fuel to the fire, IFAW is releasing disturbing new video evidence proving that Canada's commercial seal hunt remains inhumane and unenforceable. The new footage comes amidst a heated debate in the European Parliament that suggests the seal hunt could impact a major trade agreement between Canada and the European Union.

IFAW's video (warning: graphic) -- for those who cannot bear to watch it -- shows sealers engaging in practices such as the intentional killing of a protected blueback seal; spearing a live, conscious seal pup in the face with a steel hook as it cries out in attempt to defend itself; and a seal sliced open while alive and conscious and left to struggle in the bottom of a boat for several minutes. Occurrences that even the most hardened Canadian politician would have difficulty justifying as 'humane.'

We offered to share our footage with Frank Pinhorn, Executive Director of the Canadian Sealers' Association. He refused outright, saying he didn't watch video from protesters.

This should raise a red flag to anyone concerned. Most industry associations take the conduct of their members very seriously, especially when laws are being violated, as it reflects poorly on the professionalism of the industry. But given the long history of international scrutiny on Canada's commercial seal hunt, the stakes are much higher here.

The video evidence of outrageous cruelty and poor enforcement confirms that the Canadian government and the sealing industry continue to ignore concerns about inhumane killing raised by the European Union. And the repercussions to all Canadians -- and the Canadian economy -- could be severe.

The new footage comes at a time when Canada's commercial seal hunt is being raised as a potential impediment to the EU-Canada Economic and Trade Agreement. Earlier this week, European MPs quizzed the European Commission about ongoing tensions involving Canada's seal hunt -- often in the same breath as the tar sands -- during a debate about the trade agreement.

MEP Keith Taylorremarked:

"We can't deny that occasionally we [Canada and the EU] do have differences of opinion... Canada is starting WTO action against the EU import ban of seals, in addition to their barbaric annual seal cull."

MEP Jörg Leichtfried was unequivocal in his opinion:

"We have to have a mutual respect between partners in a trade agreement... These are not really trading partners if they do not respect our interests and our rules... You cannot cooperate and trade with people like that... I'm of the opinion that if Canada does not stop its actions against this [EU seal import ban] before the conclusion of this agreement we should not agree to it."

MEP Frieda Brepoels also spoke strongly:

"There is the question of the seal hunt which has been raised again... I would like to call upon the Commission most firmly not to forget this point, about two years ago, here in this Parliament, a vast majority voted for a ban on trade [in seal products] despite tremendous pressure from Canada on the Parliament to water down that legislation, and it was above all the voices of millions of European citizens against this inhumane slaughter that counted.... The ban has had an effect... because of that ban the market collapsed and the number of animals killed dropped to just 38,000 this year and the price of the hide also dropped... It is regrettable that Canada is still using the WTO to try to contest the EU law and therefore it is important for this Parliament to send out a strong signal to Canada: we fought long and hard for that law and we should not give it up."

MEP Arlene McCarthy -- who was one of the driving forces behing the positive vote on the EU ban on seal products in the European Parliament plenary in May 2009, affirmed:

"Canada's continuing challenge to this law democratically adopted by all Member States in the EU remains a source of ongoing tension...The European people have a right to say that products obtained from this cruel slaughter are not fit for the EU market place and I will continue to defend our right to do so."

Recently, MEPs voted in favour of a motion for a resolution including an amendment by MEP David Martin, which

"Takes note of the recent legal developments regarding the EU's ban on seal products, in particular Canada's request to the WTO for the establishment of a formal dispute resolution panel; and expresses its strong hope that Canada will withdraw the WTO challenge, which is counter to positive trade relations, prior to the need for ratification of the CETA agreement by the European Parliament."

Canada remains defiant in its intent to challenge the EU seal product ban at the WTO, despite the estimated $10 million price tag. But Canada's defiance could end up costing Canadians far more if it risks jeopardizing the trade deal.

What next?

To date, some 38,000 seal pups have been reported killed -- a far cry from the allowable catch for this year of 400,000 seals. According to media reports, fewer than 50 boats took part in this year's hunt, a sharp decrease from just five years ago when over 1,100 boats set out. With little demand for seal products, the total landed value of the hunt remains at about $750,000. A negligible amount, considering that financial support for the sealing industry from the Canadian government exceeds this several times over.

Earlier this week, some deep budget cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were announced. It seems obvious that federal funding for the cruel and unnecessary seal slaughter should be the first thing to go. When politicians are talking about cutting essential social services, the idea that millions of dollars will continue to be poured into this dying industry is downright obscene.

Our video reinforces IFAW's position that trade bans on seal products -- such as the one in the EU -- are not only justified, but absolutely necessary. And all of the news this week underscores the fact that the cruel seal hunt continues to impact Canada's reputation on the international stage in a very significant way.

It is thanks to IFAW's donors that we are able to observe the seal hunt each spring in attempt to film even a few of the atrocities that undoubtedly occur. We will be providing the video evidence from Canada's 2011 seal hunt to political leaders in Canada, and asking them how they can possibly support and subsidize such cruelty. It will also be shown in the EU, China, and around the world as evidence that commercial sealing remains an inhumane, unnecessary and outdated practice that should be stopped and to encourage other countries to reject cruel seal products.