May 3, 2016

Honourable Senators, I am pleased to speak to Third Reading of an Act Respecting National Seal Products Day. I am happy that I am able to give this speech in the presence of its sponsor, Senator Celine Hervieux – Payette, who has been a champion of sealing in Canada and who has, herself, gone seal hunting with the Inuit on the floe edge of the Arctic Ocean on Frobisher Bay. She understands how vitally important the seal hunt has been to the Inuit of Canada for survival over millennia, and recognizes it as the hallmark of a way of life which has been cruelly attacked by ignorant people who have been manipulated by propaganda and utterly misplaced moral outrage. I salute you, Senator, and thank you for knowing and speaking the truth.

In reflecting on the importance of this Bill to the Inuit of Canada, I want to recognize not only the brave hunters who endure one of the harshest and most dangerous climates in the world to hunt seals on the ice, on the floe edges and in the few months of open water in summer but the experts in crafting the best clothing for Arctic conditions, warm and waterproof footwear, kamiks, parkas and pants, anorak and sillapaaq.  And now, as this Bill celebrates, their beautiful designs are being recognized in the world of international high fashion, including Europe despite the amount of misinformation animal rights activists have spread there.

In speaking to this Bill, I also wish to pay tribute to two Inuit women who have spoken out courageously against the lies and distortions of the animal rights movement. The first, Leona Aglukkaq, was brought up amongst the Netsilikmiut, the people of the seal, and was honoured by being chosen to be the Minister representing Canada at the Arctic Council as well the Canadian chair from 2013 – 2015.  Canadian Inuit, numbering only 59,445 in the 2011 Canada Census, had very few powers and influence against the well-funded propaganda machines of Greenpeace and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and their celebrity champions like Brigitte Bardot and Pamela Anderson.

In 2009, the EU passed regulations banning the import of seal products with the reasoning that a ban would “[increase] the welfare of seals by reducing their suffering experienced during hunts”. It was argued that while, in principle, it is possible to harvest seals humanely, it is not possible in practice.  While this ban applied to all seal products, Canada and Norway felt that, by de facto, the regulations discriminated against their products.  Under WTO rules, import rules may not discriminate on the basis of origin, whether it be formally or by de facto.  In light of this, Canada and Norway launched a dispute against the EU with the WTO later in 2009, but it did not advance until a panel was stuck in 2011.

In 2013, the WTO panel ruling upheld the regulation banning the import of seal products, but it did identify that it discriminated against Indigenous communities and Marine Resource Management exceptions and implementations. That decision was appealed by all parties.

In 2014, the WTO Appellate Body confirmed the panel ruling, only slightly modifying the reasoning, ruling that “the market circumstances in which Canadian Inuit operate make it unduly difficult for them to use the Indigenous Communities exception, requiring extra efforts to allow them effective access.” The EU was given until October 18, 2015, to comply with the ruling.

Canada had very little leverage with which to fight for truth and justice for Canada’s sealers, including its Inuit sealers. However, as Chair of the Arctic Council when the European Union had applied for Observer Status to the Council, Minister Aglukkaq, with the full support of Prime Minister Harper and her cabinet colleagues, was able to persuade members of the Arctic Council to hold off considering the EU’s application for Observer Status until the European Union met the criteria that were developed and approved at an Arctic Council meeting in Greenland in 2011. During that 2011 meeting, Minister Aglukkaq had pushed the Arctic Council to include in its criteria two key provisions respecting indigenous communities:

She succeeded in having criteria developed to “take into account the extent to which observers respect the values, interests, culture and traditions of Arctic indigenous peoples and other Arctic inhabitants; [and] have demonstrated a political willingness as well as financial ability to contribute to the work of the Permanent Participants and other Arctic indigenous peoples.” This was the lever that was used to persuade the EU to remove its ban on the import of seal products from indigenous hunters to the European market.

On December 22, 2014, Canada and the European Union released a joint statement on “Access to the European Union of Seal Products from Indigenous Communities of Canada” that put in place the administrative mechanism required to let Inuit sell seal products in Europe once again.

Leona Aglukkaq, thank you for being the champion of the Inuit of Canada and speaking out strongly for them when Canada was in a position to stand up for Inuit sealers.

Colleagues, as the Senator for Nunavut, where Inuit make up 84% of the population, I felt that it was important to speak about the seal hunt from the perspective of the Inuit of Canada. I am not Inuk, so I would like to use the words of another strong Inuk woman whose upcoming film, “Angry Inuk”, tells the story of Inuit victimization and long repressed anger. This woman’s name is filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. She grew up in Iqaluit, Nunavut and tells the story of the Inuit so eloquently in her own words. Her film also features, among others, another strong woman who is a superb seamstress and champion of sealing, Aaju Peter.

Senators, I would like to read, today, quotes from Alethea who, as the director and narrator of this excellent film, I believe has summed up the Inuit perspective of the seal products this bill aims to celebrate, and the truth that animal rights activists work so diligently to hide:

Every spring, I’d watch people on the news call seal hunters horrible things.

I wanted to make this film because it bothered me when I saw animal welfare groups portray seal hunting as an evil and greedy thing.

The image and statements they put out don’t reflect the seal hunting I know. They don’t even mention Inuit.

Economic options are very few so the sealskin market is very important to us. Unfortunately, we have fewer and fewer places to sell our products because animal groups have been fighting since the 1960s to shut down the sealskin trade.

Most seal hunters in Canada and the world are actually Inuit. We hunt seals all over the Canadian arctic as well as Alaska, Greenland, and Russia.  But animal groups make it sound like sealskins all come from that one seal hunt in the south of Canada.  They call it, “the Canadian Seal Hunt” or even just, “the seal hunt”, which completely fails to acknowledge that Inuit are an important part of the sealskin market.  We need to remind the world we exist but it’s difficult to get our message heard because anti sealing protests tend to be loud and confrontational whereas Inuit anger is much quieter.

Losing your temper can be a sign of a guilty conscience.

How does a culture with an understated anger fight back against a group that it infamous for the exact opposite behaviour.

How could these groups work for so many decades to crush our industry without ever having seen it with their own eyes?

I’ve seen many campaigns argue that sealing should end because it’s not moral to kill a seal just for the fur. They say fur is shame and a frivolous luxury.  But Inuit defy that argument because we eat the meat and, for us, a warm coat is not a luxury, it’s necessary for day-to-day survival.  When I look at sealskin, I see an ethical and sustainable economy that feeds people. Natural fur also keeps our hunters afloat if they fall through the ice, which is happening more often due to climate change.

Suicide was once a rare thing in our communities. But as a result of the trauma from residential school abuse, forced relocations, and other destructive government policies, Inuit began taking their own lives at alarming rates in the 1970s. When the ban hit in ’83, it was yet another layer of stress on our communities, causing widespread hunger and hardship.  Within a year, our suicide rates spiked even higher, and have been amongst the worst in the world ever since.  To this day, we’re still working to undo the damage.  It took us 25 years to repair the reputation of sealskins and rebuild demand.

I grew up thinking the poverty and hunger I see around me everyday is normal. To think the hard-earned recovery could actually relieve some of this hardship makes me so hopeful.

On May 5th, 2009, the EU Parliament passed the ban by a vote of 440 in favour to 49 against.

Since no one thought to ask Inuit to be part of the discussion, we didn’t stand a chance at stopping this ban from happening.

When animal groups pretend we don’t exist or that we’re frozen in time and untouched by the modern economy, this is what happens.

They could have chosen a certification program based on animal welfare standards. They could have regulated things such as killing methods or quotas; boat size or daily catch limits.  But instead, they chose the harshest option, designed to crush the entire market.

We’re already the most food insecure indigenous people in any developed country, with 7 out of 10 children going to school hungry…Hunting is still the best way to feed Inuit and the cash from sealskins keeps that cycle going. When that cycle is interrupted, the pressure to look at other economic options increases, and we have very few options.

In addition to Alethea’s powerful words, the movie also follows and interviews key community members in real time as they actively opposed the EU ban. The day the EU passed its 2009 ban, Joshua Kango, the chairperson of the Iqaluit Hunters and Trappers Organization said “My feelings were so intense today, it even seemed impossible to smile.  It felt like a darkness over the heart and mind.”

While I will spare all of you from my quoting the entire movie, the final scene I wanted to describe involves an excerpt from a 1978 interview with Barbara Frum, a CBC reporter and mother of our colleague Linda Frum, and Paul Watson, a former Greenpeace leader, in which Mr. Watson admits that “the seal hunt has always turned a profit for the Greenpeace Foundation. And then other organizations like IFAW, API, Fund For Animals, also make a profit off the seal hunt…there are over a thousand animals on the endangered species list and the seal isn’t one of them.  See the thing is, the seal is very easy to exploit as an image.”

Honourable senators, let us do our part to continue combatting the self-serving exploitation of the seal by misguided animal rights activists. I hope that you will join me on May 17 for this year’s Seal Day on the Hill as we continue to celebrate how Inuit have leaped into the fashion world, creating stunning new designs and arresting creations while also building their market for healthy and nutritious omega-3 laden seal oil and meat.  I hope that you will support me in voting for the passage of bill S-208, An Act Respecting National Seal Products Day.

Thank you.

For more on “The Angry Inuk” visit: http://mediaspace.nfb.ca/epk/angry-inuk/

Speech – Third Reading of S-208, An Act Respecting National Seal Products Day