Commentary by Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Canadian bureaucrats are nothing if not entertaining and their ability to pursue the trivial with consistent passion is amazing.
Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned, and this week, the "swivel servants" of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the Department of Justice and the Department of Transport conspired together to see just what they could do to punish me for the crime of being concerned about saving our oceans.
It all goes back to March and April of this year when I took our ship the Farley Mowat into Canadian waters to oppose the horrific slaughter of over 320,000 harp seal pups.
I had been master of the Farley Mowat since the day the ship was registered under the Canadian flag in March of 2002. I had, in fact, registered the ship in Canada because the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society cannot operate with what is called a "manning certificate" and Canada did not require that certificate.
This is a requirement to have the ship operated with a crew of certified officers, in other words, a crew with "papers." This is, of course, prohibitively expensive. A Certified Captain and two mates plus engineers, cooks, and deckhands would cost Sea Shepherd about $3,000 a day or $90,000 a month. This is fine if we were the Queen Mary or even a small income-producing charter yacht. But we are not; we're a charitable marine conservation organization. Not much money to be made saving the oceans, I'm afraid.
Canada did not require manning certificates for a ship registered as a yacht. Nor did Canada require an International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate (IOPP) or a Tonnage Certificate (although I had requested the IOPP Certificate).
There was a Revenue Canada restriction, however, because the ship was considered a non-revenue paid vessel which meant that the Master COULD NOT be a Canadian resident. That was not a problem for me because although I am a Canadian citizen I am not a Canadian resident.
From April 2002 until March of 2005, we had absolutely no problem with our registration. I had brought the ship into Canadian waters twice during that period without hassle or comment.
In fact, I had been master of the Farley Mowat for thirty-five months with the full knowledge of the Canadian government and not once did they notify me or cite me or even hint that I was not in compliance with any government regulations.
In March 2005, things changed dramatically because the ship was headed to the East coast of Canada with the purpose to oppose the slaughter of seals.
When we arrived in Halifax, we were greeted by a posse of government officials from Customs, Immigration, Department of Transport, Department of Fisheries, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and most likely the Canadian Surveillance and Intelligence Service.
They demanded our papers and then cited me for not having the IOPP and Tonnage Certificates. When I responded that I had been told for two years that they were not required, I was told that they were required now. This meant a delay of five days in Halifax for an expensive survey, application procedure, and inspection. $10,000 later we had the certificates.
The next hurdle was the demand for manning requirements. I was told that we had to have a certified resident Canadian master and a certified Canadian first officer. In order to expedite our departure to the ice, we hired the two officers at USD$300 and $200 per day for a total of USD$500 per day. I was forced to fire the Mate after two days for incompetence only to hire another Mate who did little but complain, so that I had to let him go a week later. I also let the Master go after the ship suffered a hull breach and after he collided with the dock in Liverpool and injured one of my crew. To be fair, the hull breach was not his fault.
Since 1977, I had never had a crew injured until Canada forced me to take on a Canadian master with a certificate of "competency"
Enough was enough. I took my ship from Liverpool, Nova Scotia, to Eastport, Maine, to do temporary repairs and then returned to Canadian waters on March 26.
As the Eastport pilot brought the ship into Canadian waters he radioed Canada Coast Guard and requested permission to enter Canadian territory. Canada Coast Guard requested the name of the skipper and the pilot gave them my name. We were given permission to proceed.
And we did, spending the next month in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the coast of Labrador monitoring the Canadian seal slaughter.
Not once during this time did the Canadian government contact me to inform me that I was in breach of shipping regulations although we were in close proximity to the Canadian Coast Guard ships every day.
In Halifax, my crew and I had all filled out forms applying for permission to observe the seal hunt. When I contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), I was told that each crewmember needed to come to the DFO offices in the Magdalen Islands to get their permits. DFO officer Roger Simon knew this was not possible for us do this because the sealers threatened to attack us and to murder us if we came to the Magdalens.
Simon said that the permits would only be issued in the Magdalens. He would not come to our ship nor could we go to Charlottetown where the crews from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) were being given their permits.
Simon was trying to lure us into a confrontation with the sealers. I thought that this was grossly irresponsible for a government bureaucrat.
In response, we decided to monitor the slaughter without the permits and proceeded to do so. We had been arrested in the past on this violation and had won our case before. This Orwellian piece of bureaucratic nonsense is nothing but a gag law to prevent people from witnessing the unacceptable cruelty of the seal slaughter, and as such, it is our belief that it is unconstitutional.
Our crew was physically assaulted on the ice by sealers and the entire confrontation (a crime) was documented. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said at the time they would prosecute if we had video evidence and requested the original copies of the tape. We made the tapes available. It was a trick, of course, and we fell for it. The tapes are now being used as evidence that we violated the regulations prohibiting the witnessing and documentation of a seal being killed without permission of DFO.
Despite the assaults, no charges were filed against the sealers, and the Mounties said no charges will be filed because according to the Mounties, our presence on the ice provoked the sealers into violence.
You see, in Canada, observing an act of violence is a crime, and committing an act of violence against a person is not a crime depending upon the political and philosophical beliefs of the victim. Therefore, the sealers have their legalized ice kristalnacht out on the ice floes where they are seemingly above the law and above reproach.
IFAW and HSUS crews on the ice with permits were also physically assaulted and no charges have been laid against their assailants.
What Canada is doing, of course, is giving the green light to the sealers to escalate their violence, and this irresponsibility could get someone killed on future campaigns.
Eleven of my crew were arrested on the ice and flown by helicopter to Charlottetown and charged with violating the DFO regulations. In July, DFO decided to charge me also, although I never left my ship when it was in the ice.
Transport Canada decided to charge me with three violations of the Canadian Shipping Act. The first charge is for not having a certified Canadian resident as Master and the second charge for not having a certified Canadian as Mate. Both charges have a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine. The third charge is for not providing the name of the Master when entering Canadian waters. This charge has a $100,000 fine as a penalty. I'm not that worried about this charge as I certainly did identify myself as Master when entering Canadian waters and the evidence will prove that.
All three of these charges are summary charges or misdemeanors.
Yet when Canadian bureaucrats found out that I would be doing a speaking tour of Canada beginning September 11th, they issued a Canada-wide warrant for my arrest. According to my lawyer John Mitchell of Charlottetown, this is unprecedented.
It was obviously an attempt to sabotage my speaking tour. We responded that the last city on the tour was Charlottetown and that this would be an opportunity for me to appear in Charlottetown to proceed with the case.
The federal Crown prosecutor said no. I either agreed to be in court on Monday, September 12th or I would be arrested in Victoria on the 11th.
If arrested, I would be held in Victoria to await extradition hearings and an escort across the entire country to Charlottetown. This could mean up to a week or longer in custody.
I had no choice but to agree. On the 11th, I gave the talk at the University of Victoria to an audience of 300 people from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm and then raced to airport to catch a redeye flight to Vancouver to connect to a flight to Montreal to connect to a flight to Charlottetown where I arrived the next morning at 11:30 am.
The cost was USD$2,100.00 for a last minute economy class flight and, of course, this was just another way for the Canadian government to punish us for caring about seals.
I appeared with our attorney John Mitchell at 1:00 pm before a magistrate. The only other people besides the magistrates, my lawyer, and I were the Federal prosecutor and the "weirdocrat" from the Department of Transportation.
The seriousness of their remarks and demeanor made it appear that I was before the court for some really, really serious offense, say, like rape or armed robbery. They said I was a flight risk, despite having come to court at great expense and inconvenience. The "Clown Persecutor" demanded a $5,000 bail and an order that I not be allowed to captain my ship, and that if the ship proceeded without a certified Canadian resident that it would entail a breach of bail.
Of course, if they forced me to not be captain, I would be in no position to prevent the ship from sailing under their restrictions and thus this would be an unfair condition.
The prosecutor said I had only myself to blame for being in, as he referred to it in a "pickle." I was tempted to say I did not want a pickle, just wanted to ride my motor vessel, but I bit my tongue.
The magistrate listened seriously and then said that I would be released on my own undertaking without the bail conditions demanded by the Crown.
And so it was - I walked out of the court with the warrant lifted.
Since I was in Charlottetown, Sharon Labchuk (Prince Edward Island resident and environmental activist) valiantly re-organized the scheduled September 20th speaking date and I gave my talk that very evening to a small group at the Basilica Recreational Centre. The Green Party was well represented and there were a couple of sealers present which made for some lively discussion.
And then early the next morning, it was back to the airport to board Air Canada for the flight to Halifax connecting to the flight to Ottawa connecting to Vancouver in time for the scheduled talk in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia.
The tiring marathon trip to appease the petty bureaucrats (i.e., "petticrats") allowed me to continue the speaking tour without missing a single scheduled event with the exception of rescheduling the Charlottetown talk.
From Vancouver, I went on to Kelowna, British Columbia; Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Toronto, Ontario.
On the 19th I travel to Cape Town, South Africa, to address the Hermanus Whale Festival and then back to the Galapagos to rejoin my ship the Farley Mowat.
The case against the twelve of us charged under the DFO regulations will proceed as well as the ridiculous charges against me under the Canada Shipping Act.
But this is nothing new. I've been fighting the "ridulocrats" from Ottawa for three decades. We've beaten them in court before and successfully sued them for damages in the past.
Of course, they have the advantage of having inexhaustible supplies of tax dollars to enable them to harass us. And they also have the advantage of not having very much else to do. Paper shufflers are in the end just paper shufflers, and has Hurricane Katrina recently demonstrated paper shufflers are out of their league when dealing with reality.
New Orleans had the best-prepared disaster emergency response plan ever devised. It was a wondrous piece of work, a bureaucratic two-dimensional masterpiece. The only problem was, it did not work because the one element missing was a team of activists who actually knew what they were doing in the third dimension.
And so it is with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The reason they are harassing Sea Shepherd and myself, the reason for the extraordinary measures taken against us is because we have a message that we have been proclaiming loud and clear and which I am stressing prominently on my speaking tour of Canada.
The message is that the DFO is simply the most incompetent, mismanaged, and corrupt bureaucracy in Canada. DFO is responsible for the destruction of the commercial fisheries on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts of Canada. DFO is responsible for the diminishment of hundreds of species most notably the North Atlantic cod and is presently mismanaging the harp seal species to the point of endangerment. DFO has negatively transformed the entire eco-system of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and the marine ecosystems of both coasts will continue to be diminished until the entire bureaucracy is abolished or seriously over-hauled.
At least in the United States, they had the sense to get rid of Michael Brown for his incompetence. When will heads begin to roll in Ottawa for the criminals who destroyed the fisheries and are now mass-slaughtering the seals as scapegoats for their incompetence?
Until they do, we need to be prepared to deal with the harassment and the one-sided application of the law. And we need to continue to speak the one language the bureaucrats understand, and that is: economics.
The boycott of Canadian seafood and tourism to Canada is the key. The seafood industry will become our allies once they start losing their profits because of the seal killers.
To paraphrase Churchill, when it comes to the government of Canada, Sea Shepherd "will fight them on the ice, we will fight them in the streets, we will fight them in the markets, and we will fight them in the courtrooms, but we will never surrender."