Today, Quebec Provincial Court Judge Jean-Paul Décoste declared the defendants in the case of five seal-hunt observers innocent. This verdict has been anticipated by The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society International since the case first began in October 2007.
The defendants - Canadians Rebecca Aldworth and Andrew Plumbly, Americans Chad Sisneros and Pierre Grzybowski, and British citizen Mark Glover - are all representatives of the Humane Society of the United States or members of the media.
"The evidence showed without a doubt that my clients were innocent and I thank Judge Décoste for seeing through the Crown's illogical arguments to the contrary and finding them innocent," said Clayton Ruby, the lawyer for the accused.
In March of 2006, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Department of Fisheries and Oceans Officer Jean-Francois Sylvestre charged the five defendants with violating a condition of their observation licenses which requires they remain at least 10-metres from sealing activity. The defendants were in the Gulf of St. Lawrence documenting the commercial seal hunt to bring to the world the shocking images of baby seals being clubbed, shot and even being skinned alive.
In Canada it is a crime to witness and document the killing of seals without a government permit and with a government permit it is a crime to approach closer than 10 meters to a seal killer and it is illegal for the permit holder if a sealer approaches within 10 meters of the observer.
These regulations are designed for the specific purpose of preventing the world from witnessing the incredible cruelty inflicted on the seal pups by Canadian sealers. In a very Orwellian manner the Canadian government calls these laws the Seal Protection Regulations.
In the HSUS case, the defense case rested heavily on the video records of four separate parties: a Canadian government ship, an independent reporter and two of the accused. These videos scientifically showed that the defendants were at least 19.6 meters from sealing activity at the time of the incident. Judge Décoste refused to hear the experts who were called by the defense, but nonetheless found, after viewing the tapes himself, that the Crown case had not been proved.
"This was not only a victory for my clients but for the entire Canadian justice system," continued Ruby. "Today's ruling proves what we have been saying all along. These charges should never have been brought in the first place. These charges were no more than an attempt to silence us: a conviction would certainly have been followed by refusal of Observation Permits by the Minister of Fisheries. Our presence documenting this cruel hunt of baby seals keeps the pressure of world criticism on Canada and enables us to urge the rest of the world to refuse seal products."
In April of 2009, Sea Shepherd captain Alex Cornelissen of the Netherlands and 1st officer Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden will go on trial on charges of violating the Seal Protection regulations. Sea Shepherd expects to win this case also and will be filing a civil suit against the Canadian government for damages.
The regulations are in effect a part of a harassment strategy by the Canadian government. They know that they can not easily prosecute these regulations but they can cost the arrested parties a great amount in legal fees and inconvenience. In this respect the Canadian government is using the regulations to persecute seal hunt opponents.