Sheryl Fink: Canadian government sacrifices cats and dogs for seal hunt

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      By Sheryl Fink

      An internal government memo recently came to light urging Canada’s agriculture minister, Gerry Ritz, not to join the United States and Europe in banning cat and dog fur imports. Government officials fear that such action could weaken Canada’s position against countries that have banned imports of seal fur products.

      The news that cat and dog fur products can be readily purchased in this country likely comes as a shock to many Canadians. Most of us would be repulsed by the idea of wearing Tigger and Fido, even those of us who eat meat and wear leather.

      Cat and dog fur is most often used as trim for garments and trinkets. Fur may be dyed, shaved, and otherwise altered so that it bears little resemblance to the animal from which it came. Such fur—if labelled at all—is often mislabelled, since exporting countries are well aware of our reluctance to wear clothing made from cats and dogs.

      It is for these reasons that the U.S., Australia, Switzerland, and the European Union have all banned imports of cat and dog fur. It is for these very same reasons that the EU implemented a ban on seal fur products this past summer. Europeans don’t want to wear seal fur any more than Canadians want to wear cat or dog fur.

      The difference is that in Europe, national values and public opinion actually play a role in shaping public policy. In Canada, regional special interests such as the sealing industry often trump national values and majority public opinion.

      Countless public opinion polls show that the vast majority of Canadians oppose the commercial seal hunt and would like to see an end to this inhumane, antiquated, and economically unviable industry. But in attempt to win seats in Newfoundland our political parties trip over themselves to support the sealing industry. Only the Green party has a policy to end federal assistance to the seal hunt, and to provide sustainable economic alternatives and compensation to sealers for any lost income.

      Canada’s Conservative government responded to the EU seal ban with retorts that Europeans were ignorant, emotional urbanites who were clearly misinformed and blinded by sentimentality. Presumably they think the same of the majority of Canadians who oppose commercial sealing.

      Stockwell Day, Canada’s minister of international trade, has announced his intent to challenge the EU seal product ban at the World Trade Organization—yet another move that goes against Canadian public opinion. Trade experts estimate that such a challenge will cost Canadians at least $10 million, all for an industry that employs only a few thousand fishermen for a few days, and brought in little more than a million dollars this year.

      Whether or not such a challenge is successful remains to be seen, as the EU has undoubtedly considered the WTO compatibility of their ban. But the revelation that Canada is using the WTO challenge as an excuse to ignore the Canadian consumers’ concerns about purchasing cat and dog fur is political opportunism at its worst.

      It takes courage for politicians to do what is right for Canadians. Last month, Liberal MP Anita Neville introduced a private member’s bill that would ban the importation of cat and dog fur. Such legislation would undoubtedly be welcomed by most Canadians. But so long as the desire to win seats in Newfoundland—and the influence of the nearly $1-billion fur industry—holds more clout with political parties than voters in the rest of Canada, our government will continue to accept unlabelled fur into this country, including the skins of cats and dogs, and they will continue to waste our money on handouts to the sealing industry.

      It will take a much louder voice from all Canadians, and more courageous members of Parliament, to break this stronghold. Opposition to the inhumane treatment of animals—be it cats, dogs, or seals—and not wanting to provide markets for their skins does not make us “ignorant” or “emotional”. Rather, it shows an informed, compassionate, and concerned citizenry. When our government is so far out of step with public opinion, perhaps it really is time for new leadership.

      Sheryl Fink is a senior researcher for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.



      Dashing Leech

      Oct 28, 2009 at 5:46pm

      This is an interesting article and certainly points out some serious hypocrisy in the that memo. However, it loses much credibility when it characterizes the seal hunt as "inhumane, antiquated, and economically unviable [sic]".

      The hunt has been repeatedly determined to be humane by The Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing in Canada, The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Independent Veternarians' Working Group (IVWG). If their analyses conclusions do not count, then whose does? If the characterization continues despite all of the evidence to the contrary, it becomes mere empty bigotry. Worse than that, the IVWG report points out, "Campaigns and rhetoric that play to emotion at the expense of understanding and communication of factual information will neither increase the use of humane methods nor reduce animal suffering."

      The economic viability is certainly debatable, but it is only in question due to the European ban. If the above mentioned bias and misinformation ceased, the economic viability is certain.

      As to being antiquated, that seems to be a dysphemism for a cultural tradition that is also the means of livelihood for a peoples. I'm sure they think that misguided and harmful activism from biased characterization is quickly becoming antiquated, or hopefully will be soon. I'm afraid I'd have to agree.


      Oct 28, 2009 at 7:46pm

      Great article!


      Oct 28, 2009 at 9:44pm

      Mr. Harper represents 15 percent of Canadians and is so out of step with the vast majority of Canadians on every issue I can think of, from the environment, global warming, the seal hunt, dog and cat fur imports, and everything in between. This is what passes for Democrasy in Canada in the 21st century.


      Oct 29, 2009 at 7:13am

      Actually, if you read the CVMA position statement and the IVWG report, that is not what they say.

      IVWG says it "has the *potential* to be a humane hunt" (p5)... and offers 11 recommendations to make the hunt humane, many of which (such as a prohibition on shooting seals in the water) have not yet been incorporated into legislation or practice. WWF does not comment on "humaneness" of the hunt, as they describe themselves as a conservation organization and generally prefer to comment only on the sustainability issue (if you have an example of this though, I'd love to see it).

      The current commercial seal hunt (on paper and in practice) also does not meet the requirements of a "humane hunt" as set out in the CVMA position statement. In addition, the CVMA statement says it does not support an annual harvest of seals that is over replacement yield - something that has been occurring in the commercial seal hunt for a number of years now. Regards.

      Sheryl Fink

      Oct 29, 2009 at 10:35am

      Actually, that's not what the IVWG report says. It says "the Canadian harp seal hunt has the *potential* to be a humane hunt" [emphasis added]. It goes on to make 11 recommendations to make the hunt humane, most of which have not been adopted into either legislation or practice in Canada's commercial seal hunt, such as the recommendation to prohibit the shooting of seals in the water.

      Being a conservation organization rather than an animal welfare one, WWF generally does not comment on the "humaneness" of the seal hunt and restricts their comments to the issue of "conservation" as they define it. I'd love to see an example of this though, if you have one.

      If you read the CVMA position statement you will see that the current seal hunt does not meet the requirements outlined for their "approval" either. The CVMA also opposes shooting seals in the water, and "does not support an annual harvest of seals above the replacement yield for that population"... something that even DFO does not deny has been the situation for a number of years now.

      And as you are likely aware, the Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing studied the hunt for newborn, whitecoat harp seal and blueback hooded seal pups - seals that are no longer commercially hunted. These newborn animals are far less mobile and have thinner craniums than the seals killed today, the currently legislated killing methods are different, and a number of concerns have been raised about the validity of that study in relation to the current commercial hunt.

      So the statement that "the hunt has been repeatedly determined to be humane" by these organizations is simply not supported by the facts.

      Regards, Sheryl

      Imposed Morality is Un-Canadian

      Oct 29, 2009 at 11:18am

      Let's be clear about one basic premise: the use of animals for human commercial endeavours is an accepted part of life in Canada. We eat meat, we wear leather, perform medical experiments, etc, etc. If you find it distasteful, exercise your right as a consumer not to buy those products. Tell your neighbours you think it's immoral and have an open discussion on it. That's your right.

      But how DARE you try to use the government as a means to FORCE your moral code on the rest of us. I don't buy fur personally, and I don't hunt, but I recognize the right of my fellow man to earn his living by doing so. Opposing the seal hunt is an utterly arbitrary application of a moral code that the majority certainly does not buy into.

      You are no better than the religious fundamentalists who oppose gay marriage, simply because they find it distasteful.


      Oct 29, 2009 at 12:38pm

      I am a perfect example of a courageous, healthly, humble, strong
      individual who uses common sense, compassion, empathy reasoning, and wisdom, and who lifestyle is vegetarian and sane. I wish the world had more humans like me. They would be happy, healthy, and wealthy. All humans who steer from right to wrong have a serious mental problem. By understanding how governments function with their ways of thinking (logic?????) I have very little hope for humans. When I look at most humans I feel like a beautiful non-human animal, fearful of what I see in the distorted minds of these uncomfortable, ill-at-ease human-
      beings ready to strike out at any cost to the most beautiful (being God's beautiful animals) no matter what the suffering. If Canada is a humble country (which it definitely is not), it would show an example to other countries how to love and respect The Good Creator's animals. Humans try your hardest to be good and love all animals, and bring the so-called government down from their artificial pedestal and teach them to have respect and love for all animals so that they can give the same love and respect to all humans.


      Oct 29, 2009 at 12:43pm

      To ' imposed morality',
      I tend to think that it shows a certain lack of intelligence to compare opposing a gay marriage because it's distasteful and clubbing a defenceless animal to death, there is no comparison here.

      What or who exactly do you thinks gives 'your fellow man' the right to kill to earn his/her living?
      No one has the right to inflict suffering on another living breathing creature or to take it's life, just because we are deemed to be the more intelligent species here doesn't give us a devine right to treat other creatures in any way we see fit....
      How can we possibly teach our children to respect life when things like this are going, it is no wonder that the world is in such a sorry state when life becomes a poor second to money.


      Oct 29, 2009 at 2:38pm

      I am ashamed to be a Canadian. You who would support this brutality should all be ashamed of yourselves as well! This barbaric hunt has been a smear on Canada for as long as I've been here. We don't "murder" cows, we kill them with codes, ethics, and conduct as humanely as possible. The seal issue is murder! Ever seen a video of a seal being clubbed with a hakapik from one of these Listerine (alcohol) hakapik swinging hobos? Here's a couple for you all:

      <object width="300" height="251"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="300" height="251"></embed></object>

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      Even a Canadian Senator is trying to put an end to this:

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      They are not fish, they are mammals! They are just like your dog, an animal, not a fish! The Canadian Government wants to spend 10 million of your tax dollars to save a dead industry that netted less than 1 million dollars last year. It has to end. This is not the practice of humane people. These are barbaric cavemen, and the Government is not banning the hunt for one reason, and one reason only, to justify Newfoundland's existence. A province that has less people that a Toronto suburb is smearing our whole country...for the sake of cigarette and lottery ticket pocket change.

      Watch the videos if you can stomach them. It's every Canadian's duty to do so and support PETA, and IFAW for their efforts. The next step will be our Olympics shamed, and sanctions against Canada. We are not a third world country, or a second world county, we are a first world country that the world looks to to set an example. We are good spirited, kind-hearted people. So let's set that example!


      Oct 29, 2009 at 3:17pm

      Ladies and Gentleman, let me introduce to you, the face of sealer:

      One is using a hakapik as a penis extension, adding insult to injury, the other speaks for himself. Both have just become international fools. What a disgrace!

      Are these the faces of proud Canadians?