Save the seals

5th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

Canadian columnist Kevin Lowe argues real leadership rather than hypocrisy is needed to put an end to his country's tradition of clubbing baby seals to death for their fur.

Canadians have become quite used to – some may even say smug about – their reputation for being nice.  No doubt you've seen them, jauntily traipsing through Europe with maple leaf badges on their backpacks, ready to emphatically tell anyone who will listen that they are not anything like the Americans.

'Help me, I'm too young to die'

Yes. That may be true, and it may be that we have a reputation for benevolence, which is why it’s particularly disconcerting to feel such sharp embarrassment from events in Canada recently.

I'm talking about the launch of the annual seal hunt. That's when Canadian aboriginals and fishermen take advantage of warming temperatures, flowing ice and seal reproduction to club thousands of baby seals to death for their fur.

As I understand it, they use clubs so that the fur – destined for luxuriously warm coats and hats for politically incorrect women everywhere – doesn't get damaged with all the blood and whatnot you would normally get when you kill something. Sometimes they use guns, which are "more humane," supposedly because they're sure to finish the job before the animal is skinned in situ, leaving a bloody carcass stranded on the ice. 

If you can get away for a moment from the brutality of clubbing and skinning these furry creatures with the puppy-dog eyes, there is some fun to be had with the whole debate. It is one that pits liberals against liberals, and if Canadians are anything, they're liberal to the point of righteous indignation over the slightest slight to anyone, even a seal.

On the one side are those who believe aboriginals and fisherman should be allowed to follow their "traditional" ways of life. Presumably this includes collecting the raw materials for Harrods's fur collection. 

This point of view has a touch of deliciously hypocritical racism to it, implying that the poor dears could never make it in our modern world, that they aren't interested in it, or that they should have "special status" and different laws than the rest of us. This group generally believes that aboriginal Canadians should have some kind of sovereignty and the right to govern their own affairs – fair enough, but when can the rest of Canada stop paying the bills?

On the other side are naturalists and environmentalists, horrified at the brutality and senselessness of the killing. Most Europeans fall into this category. Hypocrisy follows this group as well, for what difference is there really between farming for meat and killing seals except for a bit of fluff and those big puppy-dog eyes?

It reminds me of when I was at school in Rotterdam and listened as classmates from Norway, Iceland and Japan shamelessly advocated for whaling as a part of their way of life.

Well, open sewers were once a way of life too.

Then you have the Canadian government, straddling the fence in the true spirit of Canadian wishy-washiness, inoffensiveness and lack of vision: the hunt, they say, is really a cull, necessary to keep all those cute seals from breeding out of control. This has an air of science about it, of responsibility, though according to numerous websites on the subject has no basis in fact. But being a newly minted Conservative government, a rarity in Canadian history, they certainly aren't going to come out against anything that, let's face it, makes money and keeps a few people off the dole for a couple of weeks.

But there are some things in life that most enlightened people have concluded are barbaric:  whale hunting, the death penalty and slavery for example. I'd venture to say that seal hunting is approaching the status of a consensus as to its lack of tenability in civil society. Canadians need to understand that their protestations about culture, tradition, economic sustainability and animal husbandry sound about as genuine as the perennial arguments of Japanese whalers, or for that matter, sweatshop owners and those who oppress women in the name of tradition.

It's hard to let go of traditions, but in the end much harder to continue as if nothing has changed in the face of all evidence to the contrary. The Canadian fishing industry is decimated thanks to over fishing, mostly by Europeans. And clubbing reasonably intelligent animals in their pristine wilderness is a practice most civilised people think should come to an end.

What Canada needs to get out of this cul-de-sac is leadership: an economic plan for Atlantic Canada that does not include fishing or sealing, starting with education and continuing through job training, economic policy and business development. Canada needs leadership to say to native groups yes, that was your culture, but if you persist we can have nothing to do with it and we can help you do much more productive things anyway. It needs leadership to say to fishing communities that it's time to stop looking backwards and start looking to the future.

Ah, but we're Canadians. We don't like bossing people around, and we don't do leadership very well. We're nice, remember?

So for now, Europe and the world will have to settle for something less – embarrassment.


[Copyright Expatica 2006]

Subject: Expat opinion

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