Seal hunt under fire again at European Parliament

‘Products obtained from this cruel slaughter are not fit for the EU marketplace,’ parliamentarian says

Ashley Fitzpatrick
Published on June 8, 2011

The seal hunt has been raised again in the European Parliament. This time, with debate over Canada’s challenge of the European Union ban on Canadian seal products at the World Trade Organization level.

There are members of the European Parliament (MEPs) publicly calling on Canada to withdraw its challenge to the EU ban. The call comes in the form of an amendment, made to a tabled motion for a resolution on EU-Canada trade relations, as Canada and the European Union continue to discuss a possible free trade agreement.

The seal hunt amendment was proposed by MEP David Martin and states that the EU: “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 (Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement) by the European Parliament.”

European MEP Arlene McCarthy pressed for the seal products ban when it was first adopted in May 2009. She released a statement Monday calling the ban “a victory for people power and a credit to the campaigners involved” before slamming Canada’s challenge at the WTO.

“Canada’s continuing challenge to this law, democratically adopted by all member states in the EU, remains a source of ongoing tension,” she stated. “The European people have a right to say this, that products obtained from this cruel slaughter are not fit for the EU marketplace and I will continue to defend our right to do so.”

Meanwhile, anti-seal hunt organizations, including Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have also come out in strong support of the amendment.

Director of IFAW’s seal program, Sheryl Fink, said she feels a call made at this time by the EU, asking Canada to withdraw its objections to the EU’s ban on seal products, should be of concern to all Canadians.

"Whether or not it actually jeopardizes the trade agreement remains to be seen, but the fact that it could and the fact this continues to be raised as something that could jeopardize a multi-billion dollar agreement with Europe — for an industry that’s brought in, what, $750,000 this year and doesn’t provide very many jobs or employment opportunities at all — is quite startling,” she told The Telegram.

“Our hope is that the new Canadian government will pay attention to this and take note.”

Meanwhile, executive director of the Canadian Sealers’ Association, Frank Pinhorn, said his organization stands by its support of the WTO challenge to the seal product ban.

“There’s no grounds for it whatsoever,” Pinhorn said, promoting the hunting of seals as being the same as any fishery.

He also claimed the EU had no ground to stand on when it came to objecting to the hunt, as seals are killed in Scotland to keep them from poaching fish from aquaculture sites and Norway has its own history with seals.

However, he added the Canadian Sealers’ Association is also objecting to any discussions on a new trade agreement between Canada and the European Union until the seal product issue is settled.

“We’ve said right from Day 1 that Canada should not be over there negotiating a free trade agreement with the Europeans at the expense of East Coast seal harvest,” he said.

Also today, the IFAW has been promoting videos obtained by Fink and several others at this year’s seal harvest at the Front, off Newfoundland and Labrador. Fink has said the videos are of illegal sealing practices.

As The Telegram reported in April, the organization submitted the videos to officials with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). A DFO spokesman said the reports of illegal activity by sealers were being investigated.

No charges have been laid against any sealers who took part in the seal hunt this year.

More on this story in tomorrow’s edition of The Telegram.

NOTE: Edit made at approximately 2:15 p.m.