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Second reading of Bill S-208, An Act respecting National Seal Products Day

Second reading of Bill S-208, An Act respecting National Seal Products Day

Second reading of Bill S-208, An Act respecting National Seal Products Day

Second reading of Bill S-208, An Act respecting National Seal Products Day


Published on 16 February 2016
Hansard and Statements by Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette (retired)

Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette:

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S- 208, An Act respecting National Seal Products Day, a bill that is very popular on both sides of this chamber.

This bill is a symbol, and you know that in politics symbols count. It is a symbol of the recognition, by an act of Canada’s Parliament, of the importance of coastal communities and their way of life in the culture of our country. It is the expression of our pride in the difficult work these hunters and fishers do, including the seal hunt. It is our desire to show our support for these Canadians, who are faced with an unprecedented crisis orchestrated by lobby groups that are threatening the sustainability of these communities’ livelihood and their environment, which is our environment.

The choice of the date for National Seal Products Day is also symbolic, because May 20 is the day when the European Union also celebrates its Maritime Day.

The European Union, which banned Canadian seal products for so-called moral considerations and not scientific, financial or other such reasons — I will come back to that later — has been honouring its coastal communities and focusing on sustainable development since 2008.

European Maritime Day, also known as the European Day of the Sea, highlights the crucial role that oceans and seas play in the everyday life not only of coastal communities, but of all EU citizens. It promotes more sustainable European growth and job creation. It provides an opportunity for reflection by public authorities on better stewardship of coastal zones, seas and oceans by all citizens and stakeholders concerned.

Honourable senators, those are our objectives too. Indeed, we want to affirm that the oceans play a crucial role in the life of our coastal communities and of all Canadians. We want the sustainable economy of the sea to support the growth and job creation that these communities deserve. We are calling on the Government of Canada to pursue and expand its sustainable management of marine ecosystems.

Let’s be clear: the seal hunt in Canada is not inconsistent with these objectives. Better yet, it is an integral, inalienable part of these objectives.

The seal hunt is vitally important for many communities. It has helped bring work, growth, and employment to populations living in remote areas. Since the Royal Commission of 1986, the seal hunt has been carried out sustainably and humanely and has helped balance our marine ecosystems. The seal hunt is practiced by fishers who live from and with their environment.

That is why I am proposing May 20; because we share the same concerns for sustainable management, job creation and sustainable growth as the Europeans — and that also applies to our seal hunt.

However, times are tough for those living from the seal hunt. I began this speech by talking about an unprecedented crisis. That is so and I intend to show that. This crisis took root more than 40 years ago and has caused a stir around the world. Actress Brigitte Bardot has gotten riled up over this issue. However, this crisis is jeopardizing the future of seal hunters and their fishing activities.

As I have said before in this chamber, eliminating the market for seal products will never put an end to the seal hunt. Those who claim otherwise are manipulating public opinion. The fact is that humans will always have to manage the ecosystem they are part of and, in many cases, humans are the seals’ only natural predator.

In Canada, we have managed our ecosystem by developing sustainable management of seal species and a pain-free slaughtering method supervised by independent scientists, which I can attest to, as I have taken the course that seal hunters take on the East Coast. We did it by developing a market for seal products because only a market for those products can ensure ethical practices in the hunt, contrary to appearances and the rhetoric of vegetarian organizations. The ethical value of using all parts of an animal harvested from its environment is greater than that of doing nothing. We owe that wisdom to the Aboriginal peoples.

For its part, the European Union is playing ostrich. It seems to be asking us to bury the seal in the proverbial sand — we know that is not quite how the expression goes. Lobby groups have pressured the EU to close its markets to seal products. Still, Europeans continue to kill seals. In Scotland, animal rights and vegetarian groups are still campaigning against the slaughter of seals by salmon fishers, who, they say, are trying to protect their source of income. Sweden’s environmental protection agency allowed the cull of 400 seals in 2014 to prevent fish stock depletion. This year, the governments of Estonia and Finland have resumed allocating grey seal quotas in response to a resurgence of the species, and especially the size of the species; their grey seals are quite different from the ones we see on the shores of the Magdalen Islands.

I would therefore like to ask the following question: With no market, what is Europe doing with its seals? The answer: nothing. It is doing nothing. It just throws the dead animals into the ocean. Is that a more moral practice than using the resource as we do in Canada? Certainly not. Nevertheless, as I was saying earlier, the European Union decided to ban Canadian seal products on moral grounds. The EU banned the commercial use of seals because it was deemed to be immoral. That does not make any sense, as I just explained. Yet the World Trade Organization decided to uphold this decision, as though its primary mandate was ethics and not trade issues. In making its decision, the European Union rejected any consideration of cruelty or threat to the species. This shows that lobby groups manipulated public opinion with their ongoing complaints that seal hunting is a murderous and barbaric practice without ever backing up their claims.

Canada should therefore not apologize for its seal hunt. We should hold our heads high and continue to assert our leadership since we are doing much better than the European Union in this regard.

If, as I said, we share the same concerns as Europe with regard to sustainable management, the fact of the matter is that Canada is well ahead of the Europeans in this area. Since the 1986 royal commission, Canada has had the courage to take a hard look at its seal hunting practices. We have re-thought our slaughter methods to ensure that the animals do not suffer. We have strengthened oversight of the hunt and improved projections for setting hunting quotas in order to keep seal herds healthy. In 30 years, the population of harp seals has tripled. Today, there are between 8 million and 9 million harp seals, the most hunted species of seal, which is also found in Canada. According to projections, that population will reach 10 million to 16 million by 2030. The population of grey seals, the largest species on the East Coast — which we have studied here in the Senate — grew from 10,000 to approximately half a million in 50 years. I am talking about animals that weigh half a tonne, if not a tonne.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Union has been unable to take steps to protect the Mediterranean monk seal. That species has been critically endangered for 17 years, and it is on the “Red List” issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Today, there are only about 400 individuals remaining.

Bill S-208 showcases seal products, and I have to name some of them, while also refuting two false statements made by animal rights and vegetarian groups, which claim that we kill seals only for their pelts and that there is no market for any other seal products. Seal skin is used to make coats, hats, mittens, boots — probably the warmest on the market — and even wallets. Seal meat is served in some restaurants in Montreal, and the Magdalen Islands’ Côte à Côte butcher shop sells seal meat to the locals and makes charcuterie from this uniquely lean and Omega-3-rich meat. Seal meat has been available by request in the parliamentary restaurant during the seal hunt ever since I organized Parliament’s first seal meat dinner five years ago.

Seal blubber is processed into oil and was used by early settlers as both fuel and lubricant. Today, we consume it as a cooking oil and use it to manufacture dietary supplements rich in Omega-3, which is said to promote cardiovascular and circulatory health. A number of Canadian companies are involved in that industry.

There are other possible products too. Before the European boycott, studies were conducted with Greece on the use of seal heart valves in human surgeries. Currently, we use pig heart valves. Seal carcasses, particularly grey seal, which is not necessarily used for other purposes, can be processed into animal feed.

Laval University has conducted research on seal collagen, which is used in medicine, for example, to manufacture bandages that stop bleeding, to make medical devices and to repair serious skin burns — I was going to say, for cosmetic products, as well; although I have not yet used them, such products can certainly be found on the market. Seal collagen could be particularly interesting, since it is free from industry-related diseases like mad cow disease. According to one Laval University professor, if we were to start using seal collagen, the value of a single seal could well exceed $1,000. Therefore, there is a market, and potentially a phenomenal one.

I would now like to say a few words about the Aboriginal communities, including the Inuit and some First Nations that depend on seafood products perhaps more than any other community, and whose traditional lifestyle is tied to the seal hunt. I actually had the opportunity to speak with them during a visit I took to the Far North.

The ringed seal has long been a staple food for the Inuit. Professor George Wenzel from McGill University described the terrible impact that the European anti-seal hunt campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s had on the Inuit economy, which was dependent on seals. According to him, in 1963, a ringed seal skin earned an Inuit hunter $20. In 1967, that same sealskin was worth no more than $2.50, and after Brigitte Bardot’s protests in 1977, the sealskin was worth no more than $1 or $1.25. As we know, Ms. Bardot is an expert on animal welfare.

In the meantime, the way of life in these Aboriginal communities was changing and modernizing, going from dogsleds to snowmobiles, from harpoons to guns. The cost of the hunt — and not only the seal hunt — suddenly went up by as much as 50 per cent, while revenues collapsed. Consequently, these families felt discouraged and abandoned, and some people committed suicide or abandoned the hunt. Obviously, here in the southern part of the country, we have no experience with this terrible situation.

The European Union no doubt saw the error of its ways and made sure to make an exception to its recent boycott of seal products. Since 2009, it has banned seal products, with the exception of not-for-profit sales of products from the traditional hunt practised by the Inuit. In addition to reflecting an odious paternalistic and colonial attitude, however, this exception actually condemns the Inuit to just scrape by, because it prohibits them from profiting from their hunt.

Honourable senators, it is also for these communities of proud Canadians that we should create a national day to celebrate our seal and seafood products.

In closing, I would like to quote one of the “whereas” clauses of Bill S-208, which, by the way, was drafted as a result of my consultations with scientific groups. It reads:

Whereas the human species is an integral part of the ecosystem and, as a result, its role as a predator cannot be separated from the rest of nature;

We consume many other animals.

I repeat, “its role as a predator cannot be separated from the rest of nature.” This statement may not seem like much, but it is in direct opposition to the ideology of animal rights groups and vegetarians who oppose the seal hunt. According to them, animals should have the same rights as humans — and indeed, these groups have taken this issue to the American courts. This is a matter of “human animals” and “non-human animals.” According to this world view where all living things are animals that have a legal personality, humans cannot prey on non-human animals.

This anti-speciesist ideology, meaning one that does not distinguish between species, is quite widespread. Millions of individuals throughout the world support it. It influences the decisions of parliaments. It closes markets. It is talked about on social networks. It motivates people to become vegans. It recruits supporters. It is the cause of criminal acts in the United States and Europe and leads to sabotage, fires, the destruction of laboratories, harassment and even death threats.

These people are serious, and anti-seal hunt lobby groups remain very active and continue to use international celebrities to solicit money from people who are unaware that they are being manipulated. After having his picture taken on a Canadian ice floe in 2006, former Beatles front man Paul McCartney raised the issue again in April 2015 in a press release published by Humane Society International, which described the seal hunt as a “senseless slaughter.”

Honourable senators, what is senseless is a billionaire who is polluting the atmosphere by taking his private jet to come to our country and impose his misguided morals on ordinary people, when he is not the one who will have to live with the consequences.

In April 2015, La Presse reported, and I quote:

Anti-sealing campaigns have helped inspire bans on seal product imports in the European Union, the United States, Mexico and other countries.

Eldred Woodford, president of the Canadian Sealers Association, said he won’t be going to the ice for the first time in 20 years, not because he was swayed by what Paul McCartney said, but because just one buyer so far has indicated demand for 30,000 harp seal pelts.

In June 2015, La Presse reported that, in the previous season, sealers harvested less than 10 per cent of the quota allocated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The commercial seal hunt is on its knees, but it is not dead yet. In the Magdalen Islands, there is a project to create a new industrial sector based on products derived from the grey seal. Contrary to the propaganda of anti-speciesist groups, which claims that there is no future for the seal hunt, industry players are prepared to invest, create jobs and market seal-based commercial products now. However, they need our unwavering support and determination to guarantee the stability of the market.

Honourable senators, I began this speech by saying that Bill S- 208 is a symbolic way to honour our coastal communities. However, it is also a standard that proclaims a world view, that reflects an idea that mankind is sensitive and has compassion for others and for all forms of life in general; a standard that recognizes that mankind is at the top of the food chain, but interdependent with its environment; a standard that makes mankind a protector who bears the responsibility of leaving future generations a healthy and sustainable world with highly diverse life forms; a standard that allows us to provide a better future for our fellow Canadians living on the East Coast.

Dear colleagues, I invite you to support Bill S-208 and to help me ensure that the Government of Canada supports the people who earn their livelihood from this product, so that we can benefit from all the products that will be made available from a normalized commercial hunt.