Making an impassioned plea, Canada's Senator Harb calls commercial seal hunt 'unviable'

On June 14, Canadian Senator Mac Harb moved second reading of Bill S-210, a Bill to end commercial seal hunting. Senator Harb made an eloquent and rational case for a discussion on ending the commercial seal hunt in Canada, based on the lack of economic viability of this industry, its reliance on public funds, and the need to provide solutions for the few remaining sealers who derive income from sealing.

Senator Harb’s bill remains on the order paper, and it will be discussed when Senate resumes next fall. We need to keep the pressure on the Canadian Senate and let them know that Canadians support an end to the sealing industry in this country. If you haven’t already, take a moment to write the Senate of Canada and ask them to support Senator Harb’s bill.

Below are the introductory remarks made by Senator Harb from Hansard

IFAW Director, Seal Program, Sheryl Fink, our own Sparky the seal and Sen. Mack Harb in Ottawa."Honourable senators, I am very proud to speak today to open debate on Bill S-210, which would amend the Fisheries Act to prohibit the commercial fishing for seals in Canadian fisheries waters and to disallow the issuance of commercial licences for seal fishing. Exceptions are made for commercial fishing that is carried out under a licence issued to an aboriginal organization or carried out by certain persons exercising harvesting rights under a claims agreement.

Honourable senators, I wish to start by first thanking the seconder of this bill, specifically Senator Cools, who has spent many hours waiting for me to pass this bill. I want to thank her for her diligence and her support of free speech. I also want to thank Senator Campbell and Senator Poy for agreeing to allow free speech.

Given the heavy government agenda, including the budget bill and the fact that the Senate is set to adjourn shortly, I have asked for and now received the Senate's support to provide the necessary time for this bill so it can be properly and fairly debated.

When I continue my remarks on Bill S-210, I will focus on the following issues: The status of the commercial seal hunt and the fact that there are no viable markets for commercially hunted seal products; the fact that our primary and secondary trading partners, the United States and the EU, as well as many other countries around the world, have banned the importation of commercial seal products; the fact that the majority of Canadians want an end to the commercial seal hunt; the fact that, out of 14,000 issued commercial seal fishing licences, only an estimated 225 sealers took part in the 2011 commercial hunt, highlighting the de facto end of the hunt.

Honourable senators, I will also talk about the government's need to be frank with commercial sealers and to help them move beyond the clinically dead seal hunt. I will be pointing out the fact that the sealers need to know the truth and the government must stop telling them that all will be fine, new markets are around the corner and that the EU market will reopen once the challenge to the WTO is successful. We know that the World Trade Organization challenge will not result in force-feeding Europe seal products. The challenge will not bring back the market. Europe, like the United States, has said "no, thanks."

Honourable senators, these are desperate times for sealers, who need actual and tangible government assistance and not the lip service they have been getting thus far. I will explain clearly that the sealers' licence buyout is the most effective and fair way to provide that tangible help to these hard-working Canadians and their communities.

I will also be speaking about cod and seals, which are happy neighbours but both are victims of human activities. Cod and seals have swum side by side in the same ocean for thousands of years, long before humans began to fish or hunt. They are not the problem — humans are.

Science shows that seals and cod are not enemies and it is the relationship with forage fish such as herring, capelin and mackerel that have impacted cod stock recoveries. Science will show that it was government inaction and misguided action on the fishery that was responsible for the depletion of the cod stocks and its continuing struggle to recover. The seals are not responsible. The government continues to abandon its responsibility as a steward of Canada's oceans and its resources.

Finally, I will be speaking of Canada's Inuit and First Nations hunters in their economic suffering. When the European Union drafted its ban on seal products, it included an important exemption for Inuit and First Nations' seal products but the government chose to ignore the opportunities this presented.

Canadians are asking these questions: Why not use this exemption for Inuit and First Nations to promote economic development in these struggling communities? Why not facilitate the processing plants, training, certification, labeling processes and marketing initiatives, which are concrete actions that could generate real jobs and real export opportunities for our First Nations? The government should be helping these hunters and not using them as a decoy to defend the unviable commercial seal hunt.

As you can see, honourable senators, there are many serious issues that we need to debate to find real solutions to some very real problems. Instead of working against animal welfare groups and environmental organizations, let us join hands with them to share ideas and resources and find answers that will actually help the communities in Atlantic Canada and in Canada's North. Answers will ensure that Canada fulfills its national and international commitment to sustain marine biodiversity and to ensure we have healthy, safe and prosperous oceans now and in the future."

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Sheryl Fink, Campaign Director, Canadian Wildlife
Campaign Director, Canadian Wildlife
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations