Why Can’t the Seal Hunt Be Debated?

Mac Harb and seal
It seems you can debate just about any issue in Canada except one. In fact, the seal hunt is the only issue I’ve written about that received near immediate opposing comments from Canadian government employees apparently. Clearly a hot button issue politically, Senator Mac Harb has said, “I wanted to start a debate. There was no debate.” But when he tried to introduce a bill to the Canadian Senate a year ago, no one would second it, shutting down even the chance to debate the issue. Harb has said, “I was stunned.” He was told that such a blocked introduction, getting no seconder, had never even happened before. And this was in the Senate, the very place Harb says is meant for discussing “difficult issues that the House of Commons doesn’t want to discuss.”

As the Ottawa Citizen’s editorial board member Elizabeth Payne wrote, “You can debate abortion, the death penalty, polygamy, burqas, even UFOs, and get a polite hearing. But not the seal hunt…One of [Harb’s] fellow senators makes a habit of twirling his finger near his temple when he sees Harb to indicate he thinks those who oppose the seal hunt are crazy people.” Harb has said, “I have never been abused so much in my life as when I introduced this bill.”

Harb actually witnessed last year’s commercial seal hunt and made some disturbing observations. Despite having a permit from the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to observe the seal hunt, that same government department would not tell him (and members of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) who were transporting him) where the hunt was actually taking place. After a day and half of futile searching, finally he “saw all these bodies lying in a sea of blood. In less than 24 hours, they [had] slaughtered thousands of them and left bodies everywhere.”

On March 9, 2010, Harb re-introduced legislation (Bill S-207) in the Senate seeking to amend The Fisheries Act, effectively ending “the commercial seal hunt in Canada while respecting treaty obligations and protecting the rights of Canada’s aboriginal people.” This time he fortunately got a seconder, but not because of shared views, but because Senator Lowell Murray said, “It is the right of a senator to be able to debate an issue.” But sadly the majority of senators voted to shut it down again, no debate. Harb has said, “I know some of my colleagues are upset. They have a right to be upset, that is fine…but I should also have a right to bring the issue forward.”

It hardly seems unreasonable that his bill should receive proper debate. Especially when considering Harb’s comments that, “Last year’s $1 million hunt, which likely did not even cover the costs of the few sealers who participated, was carried out at a huge cost to Canadian taxpayers and to our international reputation. The risks and costs of the commercial hunt and its declining financial benefits render it useless as an economic lifeboat for sealers.

“And now the government is taking its futile efforts to keep the hunt alive to the WTO, spending an estimated $10 million to challenge the European Union’s democratic right to ban seal products despite the fact that 73% of Canadians say that the EU should be able to restrict trade in seal products, if it chooses to do so…I support the sealers, but I want to tell them the truth…There is no more market for you…A total of 30 countries have made a similar choice to ban trade in seal products, including seven of Canada’s top 10 export markets.” Just what is the motivation for spending $10 million to try to save a $1 million industry?

It’s interesting to look at the government’s information on the seal hunt, especially when compared to that of IFAW. May we all make up our own minds based on access to all the information.

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