By Steve Thompson
Sea Shepherd Volunteer
This March 15th event in protest of Canada's annual seal slaughter was a grassroots initiative taking place in Canada's capital involving people from all around the world. The centerpiece of the event was to be a tower/monument for the seals constructed out of boxes that contain:
- Messages for Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking for an end to the slaughter
- Signatures of those opposed to this atrocity
- Seal hunt photos
All of the above was plastered on the outside panels of these individual boxes which in turn were glued together to make one large monument to the seals. This monument was to sit "in state" on Parliament Hill, the headquarters for Canada's federal government and the offices of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Loyola Hearn. Throughout this day, leaflets were handed out to passersby and additional panels on the monument were made available for signing (just like a petition).
The Monumental Day
To begin with the number of boxes we received was considerable: People and groups from across Canada contributed to this event including Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, Ponoka, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax. Also present were seal boxes made by citizens from the nations of Australia, the United States, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. I also received well wishes and requests for signatures to be included from people as far away as Thailand, The Netherlands, South Africa, and Italy.
I estimate the box count was in excess of 50. The day of the protest, there was an icy cold wind blowing which made it impossible to secure the structure upright, therefore we decided to build the monument lengthwise and low to the ground. In the end the monument was a Memorial Wall and was approx 30 feet+ in length.
Our protest consisted of Sea Shepherd members from British Columbia, Alberta, Ottawa, Montreal, and the U.S. Also joining us were people from 2 local animal rights groups Ottawa Animal Advocates and OPRIG (Carleton University Animal Rights Group) as well as people from the Humane Society of the United States, Global Action Network, and the Animal Defense League of Canada. Special mentions: Also joining me from out of province was veteran seal defender and Sea Shepherd member, Mr. Bruce Foerster as well as 2 seal-defending juggernauts from Ponoka, Alberta - Dawn and her comrade in arms Lindsay.
All told we numbered approximately 70 strong.
I arrived in Ottawa on the afternoon of the 14th and was greeted with the news that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador had organized a counter-demonstration to our protest.
Excerpt taken from the government news release:
"This counter-demonstration event, referred to as Up the Anti, has been organized by the Fur Institute of Canada. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is a sponsor of the Up the Anti event, along with the Government of Nunavut and the sealing industry, with the support of many other organizations. The province is contributing approximately $36,000 in support of this event."
So, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - which includes a number of individuals who have whined and complained in the past in reference to observers going out on the ice to witness the slaughter and about how supposedly dangerous it is to put anti-seal slaughter and pro-seal slaughter groups together - what do they decide to do? As soon as they hear about our demonstration, they conspire to do that which they claim is irresponsible and potentially dangerous: They make arrangements to stage a counter-protest on the same day and same place as our event. Even two of the RCMP Officers responsible for security and safety on Parliament Hill on the day of our event commented on what a stupid and irresponsible decision that was to organize a counter-demonstration on the same day as ours.
But then the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (or as I like to call them: The Newfoundland Seal Killing Corporation Inc.) could not wait until the day after our protest to hold their event; instead on that day they attempted to drown out the voice of compassionate Canadians who are opposed to the slaughter of seal pups.
After the event I spoke with Andrée St-Louis, Canadian Heritage representative for the Committee on the Use of Parliament Hill, about what transpired on that day. Ms. St. Louis told me that the RCMP strongly disapproved of the decision to allow a counter-demo to take place on the same day as our protest and that they have now implemented a new rule on Parliament Hill that will prevent this sort of irresponsible behaviour from ever taking place again.
Which naturally brings forward the question - if the government has no problem with putting seal-defenders and seal-killers together in an emotionally charged arena involving opposing groups protesting for and against the killing of seals, what problem do they have with allowing these same 2 groups to co-exist on the ice?
Answer: Out on the ice the seal defenders are observing and documenting acts of cruelty perpetrated by the sealers against the seals, and unfortunately, our side is a victim of its own success. We have been too successful at showing the world what a bloody, barbaric free-for-all the seal slaughter really is. Every time the camera lens is pointed in the direction of a sealer our side racks up additional proof to support the position that this slaughter of the innocent will never be humane, something the government is desperate to extinguish at any cost. [Update: 1530 hours, March 19, 2007: I spoke with my MP, John Cummins (Conservative) about this event. Mr. Cummins acknowledged the hypocritical nature of the government in doing that which they claim is risky.]
Reporting on the Reporters
During the protest, I was interviewed by Global TV, CTV, and one other local TV station. One reporter asked me what I thought of the counter-demonstration to which I replied that I thought it was an act of desperation on the part of our government who are not happy about the continued success of the Canadian Seafood Boycott and the fact that Germany has decided to push forward with its ban of Canadian seal products. In my response to another reporter who asked a similar question, I commented on the March 14th news release by Lori Lee Oates of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department concerning the counter-demonstration to our demonstration in which it was stated that this counter-demo had been organized by the Fur Institute of Canada. I paused and said, "This is just more proof that this slaughter has nothing to do with hunting for food and is in reality all about beating a seal pup to death so it can be turned into a handbag or jacket for someone who thinks they look nice wearing the skin of a brutally murdered baby animal." I was also asked what I thought of the First Nations contingent on the other side to which I replied that our event was not an expression of opposition to the First Nations subsistence hunt and that we were out protesting against the East Coast commercial seal slaughter which is a 2- or 3-day annual part-time activity conducted by maritime fishermen.
As we now know none of this was aired by the Media. Instead the other side (ultimately backed by our government) had free rein to present their twisted lies to the media. As for CTV, they even went so far as to "produce" what I consider to be a distorted photograph of the event that (in my opinion) misrepresented the facts. Take a look at the CTV's photo, it shows our side on the steps in front of the Peace Tower and in the foreground the pro-seal slaughter group can be seen. In this photo the perceived distance between these 2 groups I would estimate at around 15 to 20 meters. Now take a look at the Sea Shepherd photo, pro-sealers can be seen off in the distance in front of the sand-colored, one-story building with a flat roof located in the center of the walkway (which contains the Centennial Flame). This is where they remained all day, milling around like a pack of convicts. Now imagine our group moving even farther away from the pro-sealers up onto the steps that lead up towards the Peace Tower (not visible in this photo). This is where we stood when the CTV photographer took his photo from a viewpoint just behind and slightly above the pro-sealers . Remember the pro-sealers did not move from their position in front of the Centennial Flame building at the end of the walkway.
Also, throughout the event, the pro-sealers just huddled in small groups at their end of the walkway - isn't it odd that at the instant this photo was taken they all faced our way? I remember looking over at the pro-slaughter side many times and not once did I see them organized as a group staring us down as they appear to be in the CTV photo, in fact, I never was able to make eye contact with any of them. Also look at the sign one of these thugs was holding at the time the photo was taken: "Seals: We use it all!" How convenient that the CTV photographer/editor centered it exactly, and I mean exactly, I measured its position on both sides of the edge of the frame and it is centered down to the millimeter in the middle of this photo. And what a message, this sign also just happens to mirror the position of a few misguided First Nations representatives (the extreme minority) from Canada who it was just recently reported were skulking around The Hague attempting to peddle the government's crooked tale.
Next, please take a look at the Google-Earth image: It's a bird's eye view of the grounds in front of the Peace-Tower which includes the walkway and stairs. [note: the Centennial Flame building is noticeably missing, obviously it had not been constructed at the time this satellite photo was taken]. I measured the distance from the steps to where the building is now = approximately 80 meters.
My first impression when I saw CTV's photo was one of shock, I could not believe my eyes, surely a respected decades-old Canadian institution would never intentionally distort the truth, how could this be possible?
What could be the main intention of the CTV's photo? I believe it accomplishes 2 things quite nicely: (1) it permeates an exaggerated element of confrontation and tension showing opposing forces facing each other down and (2) coincidentally our monument is nowhere in sight.
Whatever happened to the press being the bastion of free speech? The CTV online article of the 2007 national seal slaughter protests is, in my opinion a shoddy piece of work. The reporting was heavily in favor of the pro-"hunt" side. Towards the end of this CTV article under the heading "Reaction in Canada" our side was represented by 1 paragraph or 43 words in comparison to the pro-slaughter side who were afforded 243 words to express their views. Loyola Hearn himself could not have asked for more.
It appears that there are some reporters in Canada who are more concerned about being on good terms with Harper and company than they are about fulfilling their duty to their readers to report both sides of an issue in an unbiased manner. On that day, March 15th 2007, the press in Ottawa failed miserably to present both sides. Instead the media's collective head, hands arms, legs, and feet were jerked up and down like a puppet on string controlled by a master inside #111 Wellington Street.
The failure of the press to act with integrity, to act professionally and to not be intimidated by our government is an alarming state of affairs. What starts off with the repression of special interest groups concerned with animals rights could grow to include more mainstream concerns such as the environment and in the extreme maybe even extending to include human rights.
This is something all Canadians need to be concerned about. We might disagree on the issues but it is essential that as a people we demand honesty from our government as well as from those responsible for watching and reporting on our elected officials.
Update: March 21, 2007: Andrée St-Louis, Canadian Heritage representative for the Committee on the Use of Parliament Hill, informed me that the individual from the Fur Institute of Canada who contacted her to request a permit for their event, on the same day and at the same time as our seal slaughter protest, misrepresented the true nature of their event.
Ms. St. Louis was apparently told by the rep from the Fur Institute of Canada that theirs was: "An event to educate the media and the general public about the seal hunt and the humane and sustainable use of natural resources." That's it - no information about the fact that their event was in reality a counter-protest and no mention made about the title they had chosen for their event: "Up the Anti."
While I was on the phone with Ms. St. Louis, I asked her why the committee that votes on who should and who should not receive permits to stage events on Parliament Hill had not managed to read between the lines. It should be fairly obvious to most that if a group wants to hold an event to educate the public about "the seal hunt and the humane and sustainable use of natural resources" on the same day that another group is going to hold a protest in opposition to the seal slaughter there could be trouble.
Who is telling the truth and who isn't? Ms. St. Louis also told me that once the committee had realized the true intent of the pro-hunt group, extra security was implemented in the form of more RCMP officers. My next question for Ms. St. Louis, one she failed to answer, was why then, once the committee understood the true intent of the other group was to challenge our protest, did they not simply cancel their permit?
Kudos to All Seal Defenders
Regardless, on March 15th our group of seal defenders was energized, vocal, and there to be reckoned with. The pro-sealers , on the other hand, was subdued, barely uttering a few chants, one of which bordered on the ridiculous: "Omega 3 is good for you." All told this group was nothing more than a pack of bad actors, their paychecks courtesy of Newfoundland and Labrador taxpayers.
In closing my thanks and admiration for all who participated in this event; the seal box makers and the protest attendees - all of you spoke out very loudly and clearly in defense of the defenseless seals.