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Second reading of Bill S-224, An Act respecting National Seal and Seafood Products Day

Second reading of Bill S-224, An Act respecting National Seal and Seafood Products Day

Second reading of Bill S-224, An Act respecting National Seal and Seafood Products Day

Second reading of Bill S-224, An Act respecting National Seal and Seafood Products Day


Published on 25 March 2015
Hansard and Statements by Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette (retired)

Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette:

Honourable colleagues, I rise today to speak to Bill S-224, An Act respecting National Seal and Seafood Products Day.

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 and Seafood 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 moral and not scientific 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 employment. 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, honourable colleagues, this bill seeks to celebrate not only seal products, but also, more broadly, seafood products because the seal harvest is part of the larger harvest of the ocean’s resources.

That is why I am proposing May 20, the same day chosen by the Europeans; 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. This crisis took root more than 40 years ago and is now 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 that it will are manipulating public opinion. The fact is that humans will always have to manage the ecosystem they are part of. 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. I have taken the course that seal hunters take from those scientists every year. 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 hide the seal it doesn’t want to see. I must emphasize that 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, whom they say are trying to protect their source of income. Sweden’s environmental protection agency allowed the slaughter 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. Those of my colleagues who participated in the study on the grey seal, which is found primarily in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, know that we are seeing an incredible resurgence of that species of seal.

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, a move that was certainly unprecedented. 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.

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 rethought 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. 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, grew from 10,000 to approximately half a million in 50 years.

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 no more than 400 remaining individuals.

Bill S-224 showcases seal products, and I have to name some of them, while also refuting two false statements made by animal rights and vegetarian groups, who claim that seals are killed 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 and even wallets. I have quite a few such products, and I must say, they are excellent and of very high quality. Furthermore, seal meat is served in some restaurants in Montreal, and the Côte à Côte butcher shop on the Magdalen Islands sells seal meat to the local people; the shop also sells charcuteries made from that meat, which is known for being lean and rich in Omega 3s.

Seal meat is even available at the parliamentary restaurant. If you want to taste it you have to let the chef know, and he can obtain some during the seal hunt.

Seal blubber is processed into oil, and was used by early settlers as fuel and lubricant. Today, we consume it as a cooking oil and we use it to manufacture dietary supplements rich in Omega-3, which is known to promote cardiovascular and circulatory health. Laboratories in Quebec that conduct research on sea products tell us that Omega-3s from seal products are the best of all those on the market.

Other products could be considered. Before the European boycott, studies were conducted with Greece on the use of seal heart valves in human surgeries. These valves were considered because of their quality and because they do not cause infections when transplanted into a foreign body.

Seal collagen could be particularly interesting, since it is free from industry-related diseases like mad cow disease. Collagen could be used in beauty products. A Laval University professor predicts that as soon as we start using seal collagen, the value of each seal could go up to $1,000. Therefore, there is a market — and potentially a phenomenal one.

However, seal products are not the only focus of Bill S-224. The bill also addresses seafood as a whole. Our sealers are also fishers, and this bill serves as an acknowledgement of our coastal communities and of the benefits we enjoy from the fruits of their labour: lobster, cod, herring, scallops, shrimp, swordfish, trout and salmon are among some of the popular species fished by sealers in our country. We must celebrate these products and encourage Canadians to consume them, since they have excellent health benefits.

Before concluding, I have to say a few words about the Aboriginal communities, including the Inuit — who paid us a visit today at the Liberal caucus — 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.

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. In the meantime, the way of life in these Aboriginal communities was changing and modernizing, going from dogsleds to snowmobiles, harpoons to guns. I can attest to that, since I took part in a seal hunt on the ice in Nunavut.

The cost of the seal hunt went up by as much as 50 per cent because of the new hunting methods, while revenues collapsed. Consequently, these families felt discouraged and abandoned, and some people committed suicide or abandoned the hunt.

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 — a not-for-profit industry is quite something — of products from the traditional hunt practised by the Inuit. In addition to reflecting an odious paternalistic and colonial attitude, 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 part of the preamble of Bill S-224, which 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;

In other words, humans and animals must live together and share ecosystems. 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. For example, there was a court case in New York to recognize the rights of chimpanzees. It 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 death threats.

Honourable senators, I began this speech by saying that Bill S-224 is a symbolic way to honour our coastal communities, but 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.

Honourable senators, I urge you to make Bill S-224 a law for all Canadians. I urge you to make May 20 our National Seal and Seafood Products Day and to give everyone living on the shores of our three oceans the gift of respecting and indeed admiring their courage. Thank you.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.