Damn Proud to be Guilty
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
The headlines in the Nova Scotian newspapers self righteously reported that Captain Alex Cornelissen and First Officer Peter Hammarstedt were guilty as charged. My favorite headline was in Nova. In big bold letters it proclaimed:
“Sea Shepherd crew guilty of interfering with Canada's seal hunt”
Of course we were guilty of interfering with the Canadian seal slaughter. Why else would we have been there if not to interfere?
Guilty, guilty, guilty, and proud of it.
This is like a headline in a Berlin newspaper of 1939 stating: “Dissidents Found guilty of rescuing Jewish prisoners,” or a Nazi controlled 1943 newspaper in Paris with the headline “Partisans found guilty of aiding American soldiers.”
How could we be anything but proud of a headline accusing us of interfering with one of the most obscene and horrifically despicable wildlife slaughters on the planet?
Of course the newspapers in Canada did not report that the reason that Alex and Peter did not attend their trial is because the government of Canada had deported them for life and would not allow them to return to defend themselves. Nor did the newspapers report that the Canadian government, without due process of law, seized the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat. In short, they stole our ship without a hearing or a trial and without any charges laid against the ship or the owners (i.e. Sea Shepherd) of the ship.
Not that we were overly upset about it. We had stripped the ship of most of its valuable equipment prior to undertaking the voyage into the ice. We had plans to retire the Farley Mowat. The annual cost of maintaining the ship was becoming a burden for the Society and the ship did not have the speed that we needed for many of our campaigns. Added to that is the fact that de-commissioning a ship is very expensive.
We saw the risk of losing the ship as worthwhile in relation to the benefits of publicizing and dramatizing the slaughter of baby seals in Europe at the same time as the European Parliament was debating the ban on Canadian seal products.
My reasoning was that we had an 80% chance of losing the ship during the 2008 seal campaign, that the loss of the ship considering her age and annual maintenance costs and the benefits of publicizing the seal slaughter would be worth the risks.
Thus we put a Bre’r Rabbit strategy into play and in the process thoroughly confused the bureaucrats of the Canadian Department of Fishy Business. They did not know if we wanted the ship back or did not want it back. They arrested a ship of Europeans at the same time Europe was debating the seal product ban (smart move Loyola Hearn – very well played I must say). They wanted me, but I was conveniently not onboard the ship during the arrest, being a Canadian and thus more vulnerable to prosecutorial persecution. They seized 20 crew and arrested only two officers, one Swedish and one Dutch who they then deported to prevent them from defending themselves. We retaliated by releasing the lawyers because there was no use spending money on legal fees if the defendants were not allowed back into the country.
In the end, the Canadian government has spent over a million dollars on this fiasco and in return they now have a white elephant of a ship they can’t seem to get rid of, a conviction of two crew which is essentially meaningless, and they now no longer have a commercially viable seal slaughter.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on the other hand has found an inexpensive way to decommission a ship, a ban on seal products, and flattering headlines denouncing us for interfering with a seal slaughter, which was our intention in the first place.
The case will be officially closed when Alex and Peter are sentenced in September although whatever the sentences are they will be irrelevant since neither Captain Alex Cornelissen or 1st Officer Peter Hammarstedt are allowed back into the country to pay fines or to do jail time. And both men now have the honor of having been found guilty of defending seals, in other words official recognition of their activism as seal defenders.
Nova Scotia Judge Jean Whalen said “Based on the totality of the evidence, I find that the Crown has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt on each element of (the offences of witnessing and documenting and interfering with the slaughter of seals) and find the defendants guilty on all counts.”
It is as if the Canadian courts made the following proclamation:
Captain Alex Cornelissen of the Netherlands and 1st Officer Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden, both officers onboard the vessel Farley Mowat are herby recognized by the Canadian Courts for their role in interfering with the slaughter of baby seals in Canada and thus being successful in their role as conservation activists.
Hey, it’s not the order of bloody Canada but that little trinket is seriously over-rated these days. It is usually given to Canadians who have found a way to exploit the country for profit.
The Farley Mowat remains in Sydney Harbor, tied up at considerable expense to the Canadian government. She may be rusting away but there is still an aura of nobility around her. She made voyages around the globe in defense of our oceans, broke the ice of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Ross Sea, weathered hurricanes in the Caribbean and engaged the poachers in the Atlantic and the Pacific. She was a great ship and she has ended her days as a reminder to the Canadian bureaucrats that they were outsmarted, outmaneuvered and made total fools of by the crew of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Most importantly, she made a significant contribution with three voyages (1998, 2005, and 2008) to the ice floes off Eastern Canada to defend harp seal pups. She has become a legend and a part of the history of the seal hunt and opposition to the seal hunt and in the future this ship will be remembered by future Canadians for helping to bring about an end to something that will one day be a major embarrassment to Canadians.
Canadians hung Metis leader Louis Riel and then later erected a statue to him and put his face on a postage stamp. Today’s “fanatics” and “outlaws” are often tomorrow’s national heroes and angels.
Will more enlightened Canadians in the future look back on those thugs who clubbed seals for money and pleasure as men to be proud of, or will they view the courageous men and women who opposed the cruel and ecologically destructive seal slaughter as heroes?
Time will tell but I’m betting that Farley Mowat, our international director’s face, and maybe the ship that bears his name will appear on a postage stamp someday.
History has a way of sorting out the truth and history will also reveal Judge Jean Whalen as being nothing more than a political pawn for the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans for declaring that she reviewed “all” the evidence of the case although the defendants were denied the right to a fair trial.
The great Canadian Kangaroo Seal Slaughter Trial is now over and Captain Cornelissen and 1st Officer Hammarstedt have been found guilty of compassion, activism and courage.
The court has said that the Sea Shepherd crew have 30 days to appeal the verdict. No bloody way – being found guilty of compassion, of defending the seals, of interfering with the seal slaughter and seeing the looks on the faces of those cowardly baby killers as they fled over the ice in the face of our great black ship was priceless and we would have it no other way.
Yes indeed, guilty as charged and damn proud of it.