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Silver Donald Cameron: DFO not covering itself in glory in seal hunt mess

April 21, 2008

DFO not covering itself in glory in seal hunt mess

Commentary by Silver Donald Cameron

LET ME get this straight. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, aided by the RCMP, boarded and seized the Dutch-registered protest vessel Farley Mowat in order to prevent injury to sealers - just a couple of weeks after DFO drowned four sealers itself in a terrifying display of incompetence.

And the European master and mate of the vessel have been jailed and charged with offences under a set of "marine mammal protection regulations" that were created specifically to stifle dissent by preventing protesters from approaching seals who are in the process of being slaughtered.

And all this hits the headlines just as the European Union debates whether to ban seal products from the EU completely. A triumph of Canadian diplomacy.

And the minister, Loyola Hearn, contributes to the calm and rational discussion of the seal hunt by sneering at the internationally-venerated Farley Mowat, who had the effrontery to put up bail money for the jailed officers. Hearn also excoriates Paul Watson's Sea Shepherd Conservation society as "a bunch of money-sucking manipulators."

If money-sucking manipulation is now a crime under the Fisheries Act, perhaps we should send a few fisheries officers to call on The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney. Whether or not Mulroney's skulking encounters with Karlheinz Schreiber were otherwise illegal, there's not much doubt that they represented "money-sucking manipulation" on an Olympic scale.

But that's not true of Paul Watson. Say what you will about Paul Watson - and you can say, with some justice, that he's intransigent, uncompromising, hyperbolic, pugnacious, rash and intemperate - you cannot ascribe cynicism to a man who has spent his whole life charging whaling ships with rubber rafts, getting himself tear-gassed and beaten and jailed, and confronting armed and angry sealers and whalers far out on the cold and lonely sea.

But Hearn, who has spent his entire working life in classrooms and legislatures, says Watson is "gutless." Stunning.

Paul Watson is not a cuddly figure. He doesn't mind risks, and he is not intimidated by the authorities. If they don't give him a permit, he goes to the ice without one and takes the consequences. If he has to go to jail, he goes. If the authorities bar him from the ice, he organizes a shipload of others. If they harass his Canadian ship, he registers it in the Netherlands. If they tell him he can't enter Canadian waters, he stays 13 miles offshore and lets the hunt come to him.

He is utterly devoted to what he's doing. And his passionate commitment reduces DFO and its successive ministers to gibbering, frothing incoherence.

The truth is that two worlds are colliding every spring at the seal hunt. Loyola Hearn represents the fading world view which holds that human beings somehow rank above all other beings, holding dominion over the living whole and exploiting it without restraint. Watson, a vegan, represents the leading edge of a new world of people who recognize themselves as part of nature, responsible for their stewardship of the natural world, and no more precious than any other species on the planet.

Watson was speaking for that new world when he said that the deaths of the four sealers was a tragedy - but the deaths of 270,000 seals was an even greater tragedy.

The striking outcome of that remark - as I saw it on a CBC News poll - was not that many people were outraged by it, but that perhaps two-thirds of the callers agreed with him.

When I first met Watson, I'm quite sure that the proportion would have been reversed - that a single human life would have been considered far more valuable than the lives of any number of animals. That was in 1976, on the ice at the Front, north of Newfoundland. I was reporting on the seal hunt. Watson was there with Greenpeace, of which he was a founding member.

That year, the Front was covered by all the major American TV networks, the wire services, and influential papers like the Boston Globe. The gory images that flashed around the world were a disaster for the sealing industry and the Canadian government. Ever since then, DFO has worked implacably to prevent detailed coverage of the slaughter - and it has largely succeeded. Except for Paul Watson.

In those days we hadn't begun to grasp the damage that human beings had already done to the oceans. We didn't know about the fury of destruction that has eliminated 90 per cent of the world's large predatory fishes. We hadn't watched while DFO "managed" the Atlantic cod and the Pacific salmon into commercial extinction.
But Watson understood in his viscera that we were confronting an armada of death supported by pliant and amoral authority. With growing support, he has fought them ever since - and, with his fellow green warriors he has changed the world.

The truth - is that two worlds are colliding every spring at the seal hunt.

Silver Donald Cameron's columns for The NovaScotian appear online at http://silverdonaldonsunday.blogspot.com/


 

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