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Another Victory for the Harps Seals

October 28, 2010

Another Victory for the Harp Seals

Canadian seal hunters fail to weaken European Union ban

European Judge Marc Jaeger has refused to suspend a ban on the import of seal products in Europe, a move that will save the lives of hundreds of thousands of harp seals, sparing them from the brutal clubs of Canadian sealers. The European Union's decision to ban such imports prompted Canada to mount an expensive legal challenge using indigenous Inuit groups from Canada and Greenland as their pawns in a move to elicit sympathy for the commercial hunt, which is really a slaughter and has absolutely nothing to do with Inuit traditional hunting.

Judge Marc Jaeger rejected the argument made by the Inuits that the embargo on seal products would cause severe financial damage and raise the risk of suicide among youths in their communities. The ban in question took partial effect on August 20, 2010, and included a temporary exemption for Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a native Canadian group, and 15 other plaintiffs who sought a freeze until Europe's top court makes a final ruling. But Jaeger rejected the request, making it a total ban until the European Court of Justice decides on the legality of the prohibition.

The European ban included an exemption for seal products derived from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and indigenous communities for subsistence. The Inuit kill some 10,000 adult seals annually whereas the commercial hunt slaughters 325,000 juvenile seals. In other words the Inuit have no argument to say that they are being economically disadvantaged. They are in effect acting as Canadian government puppets when they argue for the lifting of the commercial ban on the hundreds of thousands of juveniles.  They are simply using their status as indigenous people to elicit sympathy from the European courts and as a justification for the continued slaughter of juvenile seals by non-indigenous peoples.

Despite the exemption, Inuits argued to the court that they were affected because the EU ban diminishes the market for the product. Judge Jaeger was not swayed. This is great news, especially as it is well known that the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a history of justifying the commercial hunt by linking it to traditional aboriginal hunts.  According to Judge Jaeger "The plaintiffs presented no concrete indication that would justify their fears in this regard," the judge wrote in his October 25 decision issued in French. His decision can be appealed.

In Brussels, the European Commission said the legislation will now apply "to all, fully and without restriction." The EU executive said the plaintiffs' case was "misguided and clearly inadmissible."  Meanwhile, the Lawyer for the Canadian Inuit sealers responded by saying, "I can only regret this order. All I can say is that the battle continues."

The European Parliament endorsed the ban last year after public outcry over Canada's annual commercial seal hunt. "We appreciate and respect the wisdom of Judge Jaeger,' said Captain Paul Watson. "He clearly saw through the deceptive charade, and now the Northern Inuit have lost ground with respect to their own seal hunt because they have chosen to support the obscenity of the East coast seal massacre."

Native groups, hunters and fur companies from Canada, Greenland, and Norway are among 16 plaintiffs contesting the European regulation, saying it is unfair and discriminatory. "The people of Europe have a right to legislate against the destruction of the seals and to oppose the horrific cruelty of this annual massacre of innocent and biologically valuable creatures."  Said Captain Paul Watson

Canada and Norway have asked for consultations at the World Trade Organization in an effort to resolve the dispute. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has described the ban as "completely unfair" and "flagrant discrimination" against Canadian sealers who have been following established rules of animal husbandry.

Canada argues that some 5.6 million harp seals were in Canadian waters in 2009 compared to two million in the early 1970s. However the estimated population of seals off the Eastern seaboard of Canada and the United States was around 45 million at the time of the European invasion in the early 16th Century.

Seal populations are now about 10% of their original numbers.


 

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