Canadian Seal Slaughter Condemned In the British Parliament

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society applauds the fact that on February 14th the Canadian seals "hunt" was discussed and condemned on the floor of the United Kingdom Parliament. 

In 1983, the European Union (then called the European Economic Community) banned the imports of whitecoat furs from baby harp seals, and in effect, helped to shut-down the commercial slaughter. This UK condemnation is a step towards initiating a ban of seal imports to the UK. Sea Shepherd urges the UK government to implement the ban which would contribute considerable influence towards leading to a permanent end to the slaughter.

Following is the transcript:

10.2 pm
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Labour Party): I dedicate this debate on the commercial Canadian seal hunt to the memory of Tony Banks, an extraordinary campaigner for animal welfare. Today, I received a letter supporting us in the debate from Sally Banks, who has taken up the baton. She says:

"Tony's passionate opposition to this barbarous hunt is the reason that I have pledged to continue his work."

Sally says that the issue was close to Tony's heart, so perhaps it is appropriate that on Valentine's Day we are holding a debate on the massacre of seal pups for their fur-appropriate as long as we win the argument and achieve the ban that we all want.
Last year, the Humane Society of the United States witnessed and filmed the killing of harp seals to the north of Prince Edward island. This morning, I watched the film again; it does not make for easy viewing. It starts with a seemingly endless shot of a seal pup gurgling slowly to death in its own blood. I challenge anyone to watch that film and not be sickened, and not to want to do all that we can to stop such barbaric slaughter. The main contribution that we can make in this country is to block the trade in seal products that fuels that slaughter. I shall discuss the legal case for such a ban, but first I shall set out the arguments for a ban and, secondly, the Government's opposition to the seal hunt, which has already been expressed in a previous Adjournment debate in 2003.

The callous routine brutality used by those who kill the seals must be seen to be believed. In that film, the sealers can be seen running from seal to seal, hitting as many as they can, as quickly as they can. They do not even stop to see whether the seals that they have hit are dead. Those in the film show as much regard for the rules as they do for the seals.
The Canadian Government-I have a letter to this effect-claim that the hunt is humanely conducted, but I have detailed quotes from two experts who viewed the film footage. Dr. Donald Broom, professor of animal welfare at Cambridge university, notes that many of the seals were still conscious after being clubbed. The chief veterinary officer of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Dr. Steve Cheetham, was appalled and talks of pain and suffering and the incompetence of the sealers, but that is clear to anyone who looks at the film, the end shot of which shows a seal struggling, exhausted, in a pool of blood and icy water.

The conduct of the hunt is partly due to the way that the Canadian Government design the quota system. An overall limit is set, so the sealers race around to kill as many seals as they can individually and by boat until the total is met. The hunt is inherently cruel. Many people, probably most people, do not even realise that the hunt still happens each year. They think that it ended back in the 1980s, but in fact, twice as many seals are killed today as back then and it is the largest, most brutal slaughter of marine mammals anywhere on the planet.
In 1983, a long time back, the European Economic Community banned the import of furs and products made from whitecoat seals-new-born harp seals until they begin to moult when they are just 10 days old-and bluebacks, which are young hooded seals. The sealers now cynically wait a few days until the harp seals are approximately four weeks old-still pups, unable to swim and have never eaten a solid meal. In the United States, it is illegal to trade in marine mammal products and there is no Canadian market, but those clubbed seal pups have moulted, so their skins are legally imported into the European Union and the United Kingdom. The crux of tonight's argument is to stop that trade.

The last time that the Canadian seal hunt was debated in the House was on 4 November 2003, when the then Minister for Trade and Investment-now the Solicitor-General-stated that the Government "do not accept the need for any seal cull."

He continued, "we do not accept that clubbing is acceptable."

He said that it "does Canada's reputation a great deal of damage."-[Official Report, 4 November 2003; Vol. 412, c. 219-21WH.]

He also said that the Canadian Government had been asked to consider a total ban on the commercial seal hunt. Since that debate, more than 600,000 seal pups have been clubbed to death or shot on the ice floes of eastern Canada during two more years of the commercial hunt. I will not quote the horrific description of a seal being skinned alive while still conscious, given by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) in that debate a couple of years ago. Many seals escape from being shot to die in agony from their injuries.

It is abundantly clear that the Canadian Government continue to ignore our Government's overtures, as well as public opinion, including that of the majority of their own citizens who want an end to the hunt, according to a survey commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Canada in 2005. The Canadian Government also ignore evidence on conservation and biodiversity issues. I have here a review by Professor Stephen Harris, who shows that the Canadian modelling of the seal population and quotas is unsafe and that there is a serious threat to the survival of the seal population.

To get to the heart of the matter, what should our Government do? What are we asking? What action do we want? Part of the problem with the United Kingdom's position is that by continuing to allow the import of seal products that come from the hunt, the Government are sending out a mixed message to Canada. On one hand, they say that they disapprove of the hunt, while on the other, they are saying that it is okay to trade in the products. It is not, and until we ban the import and trade in all the hunt's products, we too have the seals' blood on our hands.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Labour Party): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) for the tireless work that they have done on this issue. Is she aware that, if we were to implement some sort of trade ban, it would be widely supported in Canada? I say that as someone who lived in Canada for nine years and has extensive links there. In fact, I am a Canadian citizen, as well as a UK citizen. What happens is absolutely horrifying. I am sure that there would be widespread support in Canada for a trade ban.