Saturday, March 25, 2006


This is one of the most controversial days in Canada in the entire calendar year.

That’s right: it is the date of the annual seal hunt, something we’ve been criticized for by animal rights organizations and celebrities around the world.

It’s a contentious issue. I found an interesting assortment of articles in my search for information, from blatant rebuttals about the erroneous accusations being leveled at Canada, to scathing accounts of the status of the seal hunt procedures that have since been banned here but are purported to still be in practice.

Look, the bottom line here is: I’m not crazy about the seal hunt.

But I’m also not crazy about the stunt that one famous person pulled for the cameras.

Now, I am trying not to jump on emotional bandwagons. When I see those cute pictures of those little seals with the big black eyes, I’m smitten too.

But I’m also aware that issues are seldom as black and white as some activists would have us all believe.

Truth is, there are a lot of inherited practices in Canada that date back to centuries old Native traditions. And we live in a country that’s been trying to balance their rights to their ways with the pressures and demands of the modern world.

Now, that doesn’t excuse everything. I’m an animal lover – regulars here know that. Three dogs (2 rescue dogs of the 3) and 3 cats. I’ve got nature and wildlife shots that’ll put you to sleep, I love shooting photos of wildlife that much.

But I’ve also been to the arctic, and I’ve seen a beluga being carved and smoked for meat for the winter. It isn’t an indulgence to kill those magnificent creatures up there – it’s survival, pure and simple. When you spend some time in a northern community, you start to see that. You see how they have to prepare to survive. And you understand that imported supplies are limited. Supplementing with what nature provides is essential.

It doesn’t make it any easier, and believe me, I passed on the offer to try some smoked beluga. That just wasn’t something I felt I needed to experience. But I’d also seen enough to know I had no right to stand in judgment over their way of life.

The seal hunt is different. But what really bothers me about the seal hunt is that when I tried to search for information, I found nothing on the government sites I went to about the current regulations. I could find no valid source of information to confirm accusations or refute them.

And that, my friends, really bothers me.

I’ve been swept away in the past with the emotional currents. I understand the temptation. But I try to make informed decisions, and when I can’t find enough information from legitimate sources to feel like I’ve got the facts I need to consider, well, I’m nothing if not annoyed.

I was totally pissed off by some of the animal rights groups, because the google search registered a site claiming to have links to both sides of the argument, a balanced perspective, and I’d click to find myself not anywhere balanced at all, but on a campaign list for who I could email and what foods I could boycott to make my point to the Canadian government.

Obviously, the point being not to educate me as promised, but to persuade me to their side only.

Free speech, and the freedom to express your views, is a wonderful thing. But it is unfortunate when people use it to abuse their view and impose it on others.

Now, I feel that I would lean in the anti-seal hunt ban category. If I had enough information in front of me to make a reasoned decision, I’m 99% certain I’d swing that way. Because that’s my natural inclination, not being one to be big on hunting in general or clubbing animals to death specifically.

But I can’t make that decision. Because I don’t have the facts. And jumping to conclusions without facts exposes you to presenting a faulty argument when you don’t know exactly what it is that you’re fighting against.

What I wish is that the activists were reasoned enough, mature enough, to trust people to have all the information in front of them and make the right decision. Okay, not everyone will do that. I mean, all you need to do is look at an election to know that there will always be people that will see things differently. But in a democracy, we also need to respect that. The point is, the way it stands, it’s nothing more than which side has the more effective propaganda machine wins.

And from what I’ve seen of the newspaper articles and media coverage, the Canadian government isn’t hurting in that department.

And all I’m left with is the frustration that this controversial issue comes up again, year after year, and I don’t feel like either side in the debate has been the slightest bit concerned with being honest and balanced about what really happens at a seal hunt, or the reasons why.

And until I get those answers, I'm going to be mad at everyone.

Go Home Paul McCartney
Boycott or Be Damned
Seal Hunt a Stain on Canada
Inuit website Inuit Diet and Hunting History
The view from Minnesota


Boy Kim said...

"... I'm going to be mad at everyone."

What? Even little old me?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well, okay.

Maybe not everyone.

Just the people who don't respect that I have enough intelligence to make an informed decision and try to control the information I have and manipulate me.

I hate that.

JamesO said...

That'll be all governments, schools, corporations, small businesses, local action groups, individuals...

Objective truth is hard to find, and slippery even when you do get close to it. But I take your point about it being frustrating having to wade through endless propaganda in search of enough facts to make up your own mind.

I heard on the news at lunchtime today, from the BBC - that bastion of even-handed reporting - that today marked the start of the Canadian Seal Culling, when 'three hundred thousand baby seals would be killed.' So you can see where the rot starts.

And yes, the idea of mass slaughter of any kind of animal turns the stomach a bit - I call it the 'yuk' factor. My earlier rant about fox-hunting touched on the same thing. It's not something I particularly want to do myself, but is that good enough reason to make the people who do it (and who have done it for generations), criminals?

And how many sheep, cows and pigs are slaughtered for our culinary pleasure every day? More than three hundred thousand, I think.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yes James, you make excellent points. The media does report it to their slant.

And not just cows and pigs and sheep, but what about fishermen casting their nets and dragging up the catch by the hundreds of thousands on a DAILY basis? We don't care because fish aren't cute and there are so many of them.

I remember when I lived on the coast we had a problem with the otters nesting under some houses near where I lived. Those people used to get their shotguns. Cute was irrelevant compared to the damage done to homes.

Now, I don't particularly agree with that either - put up a fence, try something before you get a gun. But still, perspective changes everything. And I'm not an east coaster, and I'm not dependent on culling for my living.

But some are. And whenever you take away a system, you have to ask what comes in its place and will that be better?

So instead of just lobbying against things you don't like, how about constructive solutions that might help fix the problem that created the problem you don't like in the first place?

Too much judgment and criticism, not enough constructive energy. Animal rights groups - and people like Bardot there - do the one thing that puts them out of reason: they make it like animal problems are more important than human ones and they don't care about the repercussions to people, so long as they looked good in the photos while they fought for their latest cause.

Instead of just looking at how cute the seals are, maybe they should spend some time in northern, isolated communities and understand how these people live and try to find a bridge instead of wagging fingers and running home to their mansions and servants and leather coats.

Bernita said...

Well said, you two.

Bernita said...

I might add, I believe there is another large country that does harvest "baby" seals, but we don't hear about protests or boycotts about them.
It's something like the radicals who go after the men in suits about chauvenism, but ignore bikers.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bernita, that was well said. Very well said indeed.

Erik Ivan James said...

All well said.

Table Mountains said...

if the seal population becomes endangered,the people of newfoundland and labrador will be the first to call a stop to the cull.
8 billion chickens were slaughtered for consumption last year.they didn't live pass 45 days old or see the light of day.those seals have a far better life.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think you're right TM - I certainly think that the people who live in a region are far more in tune to what's going on there than all the celebrities finger-wagging as well.

Even a Canadian like me doesn't understand what it is to be an east coaster - the east coast has lived off of natural resources and gone through fishing and lobster quotas and all the rest and struggled economically for a long time. And Bernita's point about it happening elsewhere - where they aren't criticized - is a very valid one as well.

Kate said...

People often have to make decisions without all the information they would like. People who are seriously ill sometimes have to consider treatments that aren't properly tested because they don't have time to wait for the research to be completed. All you can do is find out what you can, consider what matters most to you and if possible find an expert whose judgement you can trust.

You might be happier with the information from animal welfare groups than animal rights groups. Balance won't come into it with some groups because of their philosophical position.

I know very little about seal hunting in Canada and find it hard to imagine. We recently had a sick seal on a beach near here. A vet was called out and had to euthanase it.

The bottom line for me would be to prevent cruelty to animals. It's not that I don't care about humans but there are always economic alternatives if people (I mainly mean governments here) choose to look for them.

Even if there are regulations designed to make the hunt more humane I doubt they are followed everywhere. But I could be wrong because I'm basing that on what I know of Australian hunters.

Hunting isn't the same as killing animals in an abattoir. In civilised places at least, people go to a lot of trouble to design and run abattoirs so that animals feel as little fear and pain as possible. (Of course this isn't just out of kindness - calm animals are easier to handle.)

The "we've been doing it for centuries" argument is the argument used for female circumcision, stoning people to death and other practices the world would be better off without. I think what it really means is "we like doing this and we don't want to change".

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well, I don't know how it is in Australia, but here there are laws to preserve Native traditions and that factors into it. There are different hunting regulations in place on reserves, as I understand it, than there are elsewhere.

It's actually a problem in that in trying to rebuild Native culture, where do they go? To the roots they once had, which are centuries old, before their way of life was disrupted by the arrival of Europeans.

Now, it isn't about right and wrong. It's about being pulled out of time, where it pertains to Native traditions.

People also have to have reasons more than someone doesn't like something to give up a way of life. And in terms of economics, there are sometimes things governments can do. But in the case of some regions, people have been given nothing more than pat hand-outs by governments for years - the trend now is to try to rebuild communities and let people reclaim their lives and independence instead of controlling them through government programs.

So, it's very very complicated. Which is why that on the one hand, I'm not into hunting and I don't like the idea of it, I'm also aware that this is a loaded issue with many layers to it, of which the seals are only a part.

And that makes it hard to balance. It's like a law about Capital Punishment - I won't even go there. It's so hard to consider stuff like that and take emotion out of it and look at it practically, with all the risks in the balance. Look at cases like David Milgaard and he likely would have been executed for a crime he didn't commit, instead of spending all those years in jail, but then look at Paul Bernardo and people would line up to throw the switch. It's not as black and white as people would like it to be.

I'm either far more mature about assessing things, or I'm just a jellyfish.

Kate said...

Traditional hunting hasn't been an issue in Australia, maybe because so few people want to or maybe because clubbing cute animals hasn't been involved. In the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony they said the possum skin rugs that were held up were made with skins from New Zealand because possums are a protected species here.

We have similar problems with rebuilding Aboriginal communities. Probably worse. The health and social problems are so severe in some communities that economic problems rarely get a mention. There is far more violence against women and children than there is in the general population. Some remote communities now only sell a non-sniffable petrol substitute to reduce petrol sniffing.

Recently there was a case where an Aboriginal elder had "forced sex" with an unwilling fourteen-year-old girl. She had been promised to him so he thought what he was doing was ok. Under Australian law that's not ok. We couldn't have two sets of laws. The girl's rights are more important than tradition.

I believe human rights are absolute. Tradition is no excuse for abusing children, women, disabled people or any other group. I also believe that animals should be treated humanely and that takes precedence over tradition.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You know, we have that petrol sniffing problem in the remote communities as well, and I just don't understand it, really. It boggles the mind.

In some ways we do have two sets of laws here, that's a common complaint. There's been violence in some places between Natives and non-Natives over fishing rights and such, because the standards are different.

When I lived on the BC coast, I had lots of experience with this stuff, because the ferry to the island I lived on also served a Native reserve. This one guy one day, he was drunk, but he just came up to me and blamed me for everything wrong on their island. It was, well, really uncomfortable to say the least. And the reserve residents would stage sit-ins on the ferry and such and leave us without service for hours and hours on end.

And so much is trying to pay back for the sins of people from centuries ago, but also the abuse in religious schools that Native kids were forced to attend, many many victims of sexual abuse, so we have some things like that that have affected how we've gotten to here, and it makes it really hard. I wouldn't defend tradition over rape or anything, but I do appreciate that the legislation issues the government has to deal with aren't simple. They've been clouded by past mistakes, which have made more and more Native communities push for greater independence over their own affairs, and once one tribe gets that, they all want it.

Though this isn't just about Native rights. White people participate in the seal hunt.

Though I do know some of the information the international media spins on the age of the seals culled and whatnot isn't accurate. It's meant to prejudice people against the practice.

Bernita said...

Not accurate?
Some of it is outright lie.

E. Ann Bardawill said...

Unless Paul McCartney is going to build factories in Newfoundland to support the struggling fisherman down home, he can just shut the $#!!! up.

And kudos to Stephan Harper for putting Bardot in her place too.

Seals are not on the endangered species list, Paul. So go impregnat a Panda or something useful, okay?

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