Legal review process ongoing in Geneva, Switzerland
The Canadian government is speaking on behalf of sealers and seal product producers as a World Trade Organization (WTO) appeal body looks at the decision made to uphold the European Union (EU) ban on Canadian seal products.
Fred Henderson loads his truck with seal pelts in Noddy Bay on Newfoundland’s northern peninsula in 2004. — Telegram file photo
While a team of lawyers made arguments in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, at the start of three days of scheduled hearings, two federal ministers again made public calls for a change in the EU’s position.
Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea — attending Seafood Expo North America in Boston — told reporters her department hopes the ban will be overturned.
“As a government, we’ve always supported the Canadian sealing industry because it supports our small coastal communities,” she said in a teleconference call, making note of government’s efforts through training to ensure the seal hunt is humane.
“We have an abundance of product which I believe provides an opportunity for this industry,” she said.
In Geneva, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq emphasized the federal government’s position that the EU is treating Canadian seal products unfairly.
“The EU allows seal products from Greenland to be marketed in the European Union with(out) any regard in which they are hunted. So in other words, the European Union seal regime does nothing to actually keep seal products out of the EU market or away from the EU public,” she said in a telephone interview.
“I think it was very clear in the last decision that the WTO did find, the panel did find, that the European Union ban on import of Canadian seal products did violate the EU international trade obligations. Having said that, they went and used the moral cards issue to not change that (ban).”
She said using a moral reasoning for decisions on conservation matters is dangerous.
“To go down this path really outside of science puts to risk the whole global food supply,” she said, suggesting it establishes the potential for similar actions against other products.
Aglukkaq spoke to The Telegram while side by side with Dion Dakins — chair of the Canadian Seal and Sealing Network and CEO of Carino Processing, in Switzerland to campaign for Canadian seal products and the work of sealers.
His trip was covered under $60,000 in funding from the provincial government for the Canadian Seals and Sealing Network, announced in February.
“The reality is the first ruling was not catastrophic for Canada. In fact it proved that the Inuit exemption as offered was discriminatory in its application. It also revealed the marine mammal exemption under the EU ban was not applied fairly,” he said.
“The disappointing thing is the authority of groups like the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Humane Society International has yet to be challenged here in Europe adequately,” he said. “This is part of my role here, to actually and explicitly go after the false messaging they’ve been spreading about our industry.”
Sheryl Fink with the IFAW was in Geneva to submit an amicus curiae — “friend of the court” — written briefing on the seal hunt and seal products, something the court may or may not choose to refer to in its final decision.
“I think what’s happening here is, in a way, quite historic, regardless of what the outcome will be. This is the first time this public morality issue has really been challenged at the WTO, so we’re very interested in seeing how it all plays out,” she said.
“I don’t want to pre-judge the panel’s decision, but realistically ... we need to remember that Europe wasn’t a big market for seal products from Canada prior to the ban. It’s probably not going to be a large market for seal products no matter what happens here at the WTO.”
She said the IFAW sent representatives to monitor the international court proceedings since the organization’s anti-seal hunt campaign is considered both a founding campaign for the group and a fundamental issue in the world of animal rights activism.
She rejected the idea the decision to uphold the EU ban on moral grounds would lead to a rush of similar campaigns against other products.
The WTO appeal body’s decision is expected at some point between April and June.
— With files from Andrew Robinson