How Real Conservatives View the Canadian Seal Slaughter

Commentary by Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Stephen Harper calls himself a conservative believing that being pro-war, pro-cruelty, and anti-environmental are conservative values.

He and his government are, in fact, symbolic of the form of right-wing wacko fanaticism that has hijacked the Conservative movement.

Not many people realize that I was introduced to activism by Aida Flemming, the wife of Sir Hugh John Flemming the Conservative Premier of the province of New Brunswick from 1952 to 1960. Aida was the founder of the Kindness Club and that is the organization in which my mother enrolled me in 1958 and led me to respect and defend animals. In 1979, Aida joined Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and jokingly and proudly referred to me as the "hit man for the Kindness Club."

In 1981, my friend Al Johnson and I had dinner with Aida and Sir Hugh John at their home in Fredericton, New Brunswick, a year before the former Premier died. He told me then that he had always opposed the slaughter of the seals.

And he was not the only conservative leader who did.

None other than the greatest Conservative Prime Minister of them all - John Diefenbaker the 13th Prime Minister of Canada who led the nation between 1957 and 1963 - spoke out against the cruelty of the seal slaughter.

I met the man in 1957 when he visited our school and I remember shaking his hand. And he was the only Canadian Prime Minister that I have ever had any respect for.

The controversy over the seal hunt did not happen until the early sixties, when John Diefenbaker was the leader of the opposition and Lester Pearson was the Liberal Prime Minister of Canada.

Diefenbaker spoke out against the killing of the seal pups and was angrily shouted down by government members.

Click here
to view the
letter sent from
Diefenbaker to
his constituents

On March 20th, 1967, John Diefenbaker tried to get the government of Canada to shut down the seal hunt. He said in a letter to supporters*, "I tried to get the Government to realize how wrong it is to refuse the banning of the baby seal slaughter. I think animal lovers and leading members of the SPCA will be surprised, if not shocked, to learn that all who want to end the killings have been consigned by the Government, through the Minister, to the ranks of what he describes as ‘irresponsible people.'"

Diefenbaker also said, "I shall continue to demand a ban, regardless of the contemptuous way in which so humanitarian a request has been treated and received by the Minister of Fisheries speaking for the Government and its supporters."

In 1969, Canadian Fisheries Minister Jack Davis rose in the House of Commons to announce he was looking for ways to abolish the slaughter of seal pups in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He was looking into ways to make the entire Gulf a sanctuary for seals.

"There's no denying the seal hunt is a grim business. It is gruesome and appalling," said Jack Davis. He failed in his efforts to create the sanctuary.

This cruel and gory obscenity continues on forty years later without a single politician in Ottawa having the courage to speak out against it; all of them so worried about political repercussions that they dare saying anything. All of them so terrified of the consequences of speaking out against cruelty and slaughter, afraid to voice an opinion, and afraid to rise like John Diefenbaker did, like Jack Davis did, to speak out against something that brings annual shame and disgrace to the escutcheon of Canada.

The present Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn is more concerned that children are opposing the seal hunt than about the atrocities going out on the ice. He has accused seal defenders of exploiting children by encouraging them to join in the protest against the seal slaughter.

I wish that when I was a child that I could have encouraged adults to join me to oppose the seal killing. Children don't need encouragement to oppose cruelty and slaughter. They need adults who will support them when they speak out against such perversions.

What I have seen on the floes off the Eastern Coast of Canada is unspeakable cruelty. It is a cruelty so appalling and so blatant that I, as a 12th generation Canadian, can no longer bear to live under a flag that justifies such perverse atrocities.

I'm not interested in the justification of fishermen. I was raised in an East Coast fishing community and I saw as a child, with my own eyes, the unnecessary cruelty and ecological irresponsibility of most of the fishermen that I knew. Their arguments don't impress me because they are thugs. Any man who makes a living from bashing in the skulls of baby seals and skinning them alive is a man without a conscience and without any capacity for moral empathy at all.

Holding this point of view makes me an "irresponsible person." But then again, I'm in good company with people like former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, former Fisheries Minister Jack Davis, and former New Brunswick Premier Sir Hugh John Flemming.