(This article was originally written for, and appeared in The Parliament Magazine)
For decades the bloody spectacle of the cruel Canadian seal hunt appalled the general public in the European Union. Images from the commercial slaughter became an iconic symbol for all concerned about conservation and animal welfare. Resulting widespread condemnation led the European commission to propose a regulation to ban the trade in seal products, which members of the European parliament overwhelmingly endorsed in May 2009 with a 550-49 vote.
Sadly, however, rather than respecting the democratic will of the EU, the Canadian government is now attempting to have the ban thrown out by referring the matter to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), while simultaneously negotiating a comprehensive economic and trade agreement (CETA) with the EU. The fact that both things are happening simultaneously reveals a cavalier hypocrisy by the Canadian government and the failure of the commission’s negotiators to defend Europe’s moral values by more strongly demanding the withdrawal of the WTO complaint.
The EU has a proud record of defending both human rights and animal welfare. The EU’s ban on seal product trade was and still is overwhelmingly popular with European citizens. Over seven in 10 adults (72 per cent) across the 11 European countries surveyed in July 2011 by Ipsos Mori say they supported the ban with the ratio of support to opposition running at over five to one. The aim of the regulation was to ensure that commercial seal products are no longer placed on the EU market. The ban entered into force in August 2010.
This should have been the end of the story but while the European commission’s cowardice threatens its own legislation, Canada continues to slaughter baby seals. In 2011, the Canadian government authorised the killing of 400,000 pups. Due largely to the EU ban the quota was not met and the smaller number of about 38,000 were killed.
Since the ratification of the Lisbon treaty in December 2009 the European parliament must ratify all trade agreements. In the case of CETA, 102 MEPs have already signed an open letter stating they won’t ratify the deal unless Canada drops its WTO challenge.
Now the European public is getting involved. Humane Society International recently launched a petition calling on the European parliament to defend its own legislation and to reject CETA for so long as Canada continues with its WTO challenge. Nearly 20,000 EU citizens from all 27 member states have already added their names to the petition. The parliament has an opportunity to demonstrate to the Canadian public, the Canadian business community and the European commission that CETA is dead if Canada continues to disregard EU morality and democracy.
The Canadian government must face the fact that the seal hunt is dead. Russia, after ending its own seal hunt on animal welfare grounds, recently followed in the EU’s footsteps and banned the trade in seal products. Russia imported nearly 90 per cent of Canada’s post-EU ban seal exports.
There are none so blind as those that cannot see. It is our hope that the 20,000 plus signatures presented at the upcoming meeting of the parliament’s petitions committee will help lift the blinkers from the Canadian government’s eyes.
Michael Cashman is a member of parliament’s petitions committee