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Second reading of Bill C-555, An Act respecting the Marine Mammal Regulations (seal fishery observation licence)

Second reading of Bill C-555, An Act respecting the Marine Mammal Regulations (seal fishery observation licence)
Seal Hunt

Second reading of Bill C-555, An Act respecting the Marine Mammal Regulations (seal fishery observation licence)


Published on 23 April 2015
Hansard and Statements by Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette (retired)

Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette:

Honourable senators, you will not be too surprised to hear me speak about a bill concerning marine mammals and especially our famous seals. Indeed, I rise today to speak to Bill C-555, An Act respecting the Marine Mammal Regulations (seal fishery observation licence).

First of all, honourable senators, I would like to state that I support this bill. Any initiative to protect seal hunters and their legitimate activity, as imperfect as it may be, is welcome and deserves to be supported.

This bill is quite simple: it seeks to increase the distance that non-licensed observers must maintain from hunters to a nautical mile or 1,852 metres, rather than the half nautical mile currently set out in the Marine Mammal Regulations. Observation of the seal hunt is not a right. It is something the government allows in an effort to make the seal hunt transparent.

Canada has nothing to hide, with its humane hunting techniques and painless practices set out by independent veterinarians. It is also important to note that training is given every year, and I have taken that training.

The observation licences issued during the hunting season are good for 24 hours and can be renewed daily. Are licences issued to observe wild boar or deer hunting in Germany or France? Are licences issued to observe the wild boar hunt that is conducted by helicopter in Texas to try to control the population? Obviously, the answer is no.

Unlike the hunts that occur in Europe, Canada’s seal hunt is not a sport hunt. It is a commercial hunt, a subsistence hunt. Are licences issued so that people can observe what happens in slaughterhouses? Slaughterhouses have nothing to gain from opening their doors and they are not willing to do so. No other country but Canada has made its hunt so accessible to observers.

The seal hunt is the most managed, controlled and monitored hunt on the planet. RCMP officers are out on the ice. In addition to firearms officers, officials from Fisheries and Oceans Canada ensure that good hunting practices are being used, while officials from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ensure that seal hunters have completed the training on the humane three-step hunting process. The Coast Guard is also present.

It is extremely unfortunate that some groups who are opposed not only to the hunt, but also to the use of the meat as food have used this privilege granted by the Government of Canada to conduct fundraising campaigns and intellectual sabotage.

As an aside, I want to talk about an incident that was captured by the cameras of director Raoul Jomphe and that was part of a memorable excerpt from his film entitled, Phoques, le film. Rebecca Aldworth, the Canadian coordinator of the Humane Society of the United States, stands in front of a wounded seal that had escaped a hunter. Instead of killing the seal, which was at her feet, to put it out of its misery, she let it die a slow and agonizing death while her cameraman looked for good shots and while she spoke to the camera to denounce the hunt.

The seal almost slipped into the water and was caught at the last minute. The Humane Society team ran after the seal to get a better shot as it was dying on the ice. In his film, Raoul Jomphe states that if a real hunter had found this seal, he would have killed it out of pity and out of professionalism, since his own code does not allow making the animals suffer.

That’s the basis of propaganda: no scruples, no remorse and no humanity. The Marine Mammal Regulations do enable the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to deny issuing an observation licence if he deems that, and I quote:

. . . the applicant has a stated aim of disrupting the seal fishery. . .

However, in reality, only the disreputable Paul Watson, who is an advocate for veganism, which means that he opposes any consumption of animals and consumes strictly vegetables, has had his licence application denied. I remind senators that Paul Watson’s boat was stopped by the Canadian Coast Guard for failing to comply with the Marine Mammal Regulations and for putting others at risk.

That same Paul Watson fled Germany in 2012 after being arrested at the request of Costa Rican and Japanese legal authorities. Interpol was after him for years. In 2008, his boat was turned back by French fishers from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, in solidarity with Canadian fishers, after Mr. Watson said that the seal hunt was more tragic than the deaths of the Magdalen Island hunters who went down with the Acadien II.

Do observers have to go to such lengths for the department to exercise its right to refuse to issue an observation licence? The reality, dear colleagues, is that people in Newfoundland and the Magdalen Islands and Nunavut risk their lives for their profession. They are not the only courageous workers to take such risks, but they are the only ones who have to work under mounting pressure from observers who are becoming increasingly hostile.

We have a responsibility here. As parliamentarians, we must ensure that our laws protect Canadians, especially when they are doing their jobs. We have to do something about the pressure brought to bear by these observers and the danger they pose. Bill C-555 attempts to respond to this situation.

I told you that even though this response may seem imperfect, at least it is a step in the right direction. It seems in this case that Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials determined that observers without a licence, who are allowed to observe the hunters from half a nautical mile away, would increase the risk of breaking the ice that the sealers hunt on.

Still, I would like to make some amendments to this bill, and I have shared them with my government colleagues. For example, we need to look at why Bill C-555 does not challenge the observation distance authorized for observers with permits. That distance is ten metres. Ten metres is not very much at all. This raises some serious safety concerns considering that the firearms seal hunters use have a range in excess of 1,000 feet and that the ammunition in those firearms can ricochet off the ice.

We also need to look at why Bill C-555 seems to address only land-based observers even though most observers are on boats.

Also, this bill does not address the problem of helicopter observation. Under existing rules, observers’ helicopters cannot descend lower than 500 feet — about 150 metres — above a fishing boat or a sealing vessel unless they need to land.

I am sure you will agree that 150 metres is not very high and that having a helicopter right over your head with observers taking pictures of you while you work with the intention of going after you if you make the slightest mistake does not feel very safe.

I asked East Coast hunters what they think of this. They said that helicopter pilots get around the regulations by pretending to land and then taking off again, the better to disrupt the hunt by going below the authorized 500-foot limit. Lastly, and most importantly, the bill does not address one of the biggest problems, the right to images.

Sealers have been vilified for over 40 years. Now with the rapid expansion of the Internet and social networks, anti-sealing groups and vegetarians can instantly distribute photographs and videos of these men as they do their job to people around the world. The men become fodder for public condemnation in the form of defamatory messages and campaigns of disinformation.

As Canadians, I believe that we should be saying that this is completely unacceptable. I asked hunters what they were doing to retain the right to these images. I was told, quite rightly, that the observation licence issued by the Government of Canada is only supposed to allow observation. It is not a permit for making films or taking photographs.

They also told me that in the event of a legal challenge, anti-sealing groups have so much money that they are capable of hiring the best lawyers in the country. Many of the Internet sites that post the offending videos and photos are hosted on servers based abroad, which makes legal action more complicated.

In conclusion, honourable senators, this bill has the merit of raising one of many issues that should be debated by the Fisheries Committee. Should Canada authorize seal hunt observers, particularly those carrying regular or video cameras?

After all, we know that observers who belong to such organizations as HSUS, IFAW and PETA, which are known to strongly oppose the hunt, want to undermine the interests of sealers and also tarnish Canada’s image abroad.

Under these conditions, I will ask the following question: Who would benefit from authorizing observers equipped with cameras, which they will wield as weapons to incriminate our sealers?

Honourable senators, while waiting to debate this issue, I invite you to support this bill and assure us that some amendments will be made. I would like to describe the amendments that we proposed to the government.

They are the following: to increase the distance that licenced observers must maintain from hunters from 10 metres to half a nautical mile, or 926 metres; to prohibit observation by helicopter with all of the risks that that entails; if observation by helicopter is allowed, to make it mandatory for those aircraft to have a black box with GPS to ensure that they follow the regulations; to increase the minimum distance a helicopter can hover over a boat from 500 feet, or 152 metres, to 2,000 feet, or 760 metres; to prohibit all types of cameras, which serve no purpose other than to interfere in hunting activities; to make it mandatory for every observation boat to have an inspector aboard — the cost of which is to be covered by the observers — who is responsible for ensuring compliance with the regulations governing the observation of the seal hunt; to increase the cost of the observation licence to $200 per day; to address the issue of defamation in the use of images of seal hunters; and to prohibit any observation by creating a reserved hunting area during the hunting season.

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