9 min read

Canada Takes Aim at its Own Foot Again...

Canadian Senator Calls for National Seal Products and Seafood Day

I am of two minds. As a conservationist and environmentalist, I recognize that the seafood industry has been one of the most ecologically destructive of human activities; and, as an animal protectionist, I have long worked to help end the massive commercial East coast seal hunt, and more recently to prevent the culling of gray seals (to placate those who ignore science in favor of placating East coast fishermen). Thus, when I heard that Canadian Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette wants May 20 be declared "National Seal Products and Seafood Day," I supposed that I should oppose the idea.

But, I think I'll pass, looking at the bigger picture. Canadian senators are nothing like American senators. They are not elected. They don't have to be particularly bright. They really are a hangover from the British class system whose duty is to make sure that the hoi polloi, as represented by elected members of parliament, don't get too carried away with passing legislation. Canadian-type senators are supposed to give serious second thought to legislation passed by parliament, to perhaps make amendments before it becomes law. They make themselves busy and, no doubt, some are sincere, dedicated, and even useful. But, for the most part, they are, shall we say, detached from the real world, both within Canada and without. Canadians mostly wanted the Senate reformed or abolished. Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to do that, but it was one of his many lies-and he instead stacked it with what he hoped were high-profile Conservative supporters, some of whom are now embroiled in scandals.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the most authoritarian Prime Minister Canada has had in my lifetime, wants other countries to believe that he cares about the environment. Despite a history of lies (tidally enumerated in various books, the latest reviewed here), he still seeks to gain support on the international stage for various anti-environmental policies, including promotion of dirty oil from the Alberta Tar Sands. In international conservation and environmental circles, Canada is seen as a pariah on issues such as climate change and species protection, and judged by its actions at home.

Canada worked hard to conflate the relatively small-scale traditional seal hunt by northern Inuit (which isn't really "traditional" to the degree that use of snow mobiles and rifles and international trade are not really parts of "traditional" Inuit culture), with the huge annual commercial seal hunt for harp (and formerly hooded) seals off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence each late winter and spring. The latter was a mass slaughter that became a cause célèbre for the so-called animal rights movement, starting some three decades ago. The government/industry strategy was to take advantage of "progressive" sensitivity to the overall plight of aboriginal peoples by convincing everyone that, even though different seal species and different regions and cultures were involved, the commercial hunt and the northern "subsistence" hunt were really one and the same.

It worked well with most Canadian legislators and too many Canadian media outlets-but not with the Europeans, who are well ahead of Canada on animal welfare issues (notwithstanding their regional tastes for bullfighting, foie gras, frog legs, and fox hunting). When the European Union banned products from the commercial hunt, it exempted those derived from the "traditional" small scale Inuit hunt. All Canadian governments and the three main federal political parties have supported the commercial hunt. The reasons are too complex to go into here, but mostly involve the desire to not lose votes on the East coast, and Canadian insecurities about being told "what to do" by anyone else (especially by the U.S., which banned seal product import decades ago).

When the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) holds its next Conference of the Parties in 2016, the U.S. looks like it will again try to get Appendix I protection for the polar bear, a species found in four nations: Canada, Greenland (under the jurisdiction of Denmark), Norway, and Russia. Earlier attempts failed-but, if successful, rich foreign hunters will not be able to ship polar bear trophies to other countries. Among the five polar bear nations, only Canada allows commercial hunt and export, arguing that there are plenty of polar bears. So, part of our job is to illustrate just how the Canadian government treats the environment.

We tell the world how Canada's own environmental scientists are barred from releasing results of their research, how environmentally oriented charities are constantly audited, how government scientists are hampered or prevented from talking to media, or even from conferring with their international peers... stuff like that. Even as I was typing this, the former head of BC Hydro pulled out of hearings for the Kinder Morgan Pipeline on the grounds that the process was a "farce." I mean, these things are happening daily, and they do get noticed.

So, ironic though it may be, Hervieux-Payette's silly idea will, if acted upon, probably help us to protect the seals and the polar bears-and, ultimately, the planet. We can use this! Bring it on.

Image: "red white Canadian flag"by melissamahon is licensed under CC by Creative Commons Deed CC0