An Apology for Canada’s Treatment of Animals

On behalf of all Canadians of conscience, I apologize to all the creatures of this world for the disgrace of Canada’s treatment of animals. I apologize for the disgusting and offensive remarks of Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams, a colossally dim-witted man who not only defended the staggering barbarity of the annual seal hunt that kills 300,000 seals every year in a bloodbath for fashion that is so unprofitable it is subsidized by the federal government, but accused the McCartneys, who are campaigning against this carnage, of being dupes of the IFAW, Greenpeace and PETA, groups he accused of being “terrorists”. I apologize as well for the federal fisheries minister Loyola Hearn, who has announced that the new Conservative government fully supports the continuation of overharvesting policies that have decimated Canada’s fisheries, bankrupted the industry, and wrecked the entire ecosystems of which fish populations are apart, and has pledged to do everything he can to block the McCartneys’ efforts to end the savagery of the seal hunt.

I apologize, too, for the shameful behaviour of all of Canada’s political parties for their unwillingness to update Canada’s feeble 1892 animal welfare laws, despite feverish work over eight long years to bring perfectly modest, reasonable new legislation to a vote. The politicians were repeatedly bought off by a selfish and paranoid lobby of farmers, trappers and animal laboratories working with Big Pharma. As a consequence, Canada’s laws against deliberate cruelty to animals remain the shame of the Western world, and will inevitably encourage yet more puppy farms, neglect and abuse of farmed animals, and barbaric treatment of laboratory animals.

I apologize for the abomination of Western Canadian oil development (especially the tar sands development which is producing the greatest environmental devastation in Canada’s history), and Western Canadian logging and mining, which lays waste thousands of square miles of Canadian wilderness every year, driving wild animals further and further into the mountains and tundra, all so that mostly foreign-owned corporations can ship raw logs, coal and other minerals to Asia to be converted into shoddy manufactured products that are then sold back to hapless Canadians at a profit.

I apologize for the disgrace of Canada’s hydro-electric industry, which, mostly under government auspices, has flooded hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness to allow dams to be built that produce cheap energy, much of which is exported to the US and which has delayed investment in the development of renewable energy technologies and generators.

I apologize for the many Canadian farmers who have sold out family farms for a quick buck to developers and agribusiness, and for the politicians who allowed the development and agribusiness and agricultural chemical lobbies to distort land and food markets so that the family farm was ludicrously rendered ‘uneconomic’. And I apologize for the farmers who, almost without a thought, will kill thousands or millions of tightly confined animals at the first sign that this confinement has produced inevitable disease epidemics, will soak the confinement areas in toxic chemicals in accordance with government orders, and will then, a few months later, start buying and breeding new stocks of animals for confinement so that this mindless carnage can be repeated again and again.

We live in a country of staggering wealth, one that has the space and the resources to be a model for the world in the way in which we treat all life. Instead, the treatment of animals is Canada’s shame.

Last month I endorsed David Suzuki’s 10-point plan for Sustainability Within a Generation. I believe this plan needs an 11th point, one that pledges that all government laws, regulations and policies should ensure respect for all life on Earth. Suzuki, Canada’s leading spokesman for environmental responsibility, speaks of the needto strive for a “sacred balance”.

We have a long, long way to go.

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8 Responses to An Apology for Canada’s Treatment of Animals

  1. Dave Pollard says:

    I have deleted the comments to date on this post because, with the exception of etbnc’s, they really added heat rather than light to this important debate. We need some comments on what to do about this, please.The suggestion that Canadian mistreatment of animals is acceptable because other countries do worse is not worthy of discussion. And the myth that seals “need” a cull because nature is unable to regulate their numbers any other way is ludicrous, mythology that was debunked more than a generation ago. It goes to show how little progress we have made that these same hoary, irrelevant and incorrect statements are still being made three decades after we thought we had brought an end to this shameful business. For those who read the earlier version, I removed the sentence on the symbolism of the Canadian flag because it was admittedly lame.

  2. MKB says:

    At the risk of having this comment deleted again, I do believe that there is some heat to this issue because there is so much misinformation about the issue. Seals are not an endangered species and there numbers are growing at an extremely high rate, to the point that their numbers are affecting other species.Secondly, unlike the misinformation that most American animal rights groups would have us believe, seal pups are not killed. It has been illegal to do so since the early 1980s and there have been prosecutions brought against those that have.Third, the killing of seals is done so in a manner that is just as or more humane that many other animals that are commercially harvested, for example, the way cows are killed in slaughter houses (which I notice you fail to really address in your post).Even the picture that you have posted, is extremely misleading, as it shows the carcasses of dead seals, with only their pelts missing. Unlike many animals, over 98% of the seal is harvested for a variety of products. The pelt of the animal is only one of MANY sources of commercially viable industries that comes from the seal hunt.I am all for environmental protection of things that need protecting. I am also all for the humane treatment of animals that we harvest for our commercial good. I am not, as your recent comment portrays my position, in favour of a seal cull. This is why I agree that there needs to be strict regulation of this industry (which currently exists), aggressive prosecution of violators (which exists moreso than any other fishery), and a sustainable quota (which given the fact that the seal herd has continued to increase even with the annual hunt, indicates that the current quota levels are not decreasing the overall population at all).The problem as I see it is that you have presented the seal hunt in very black and white terms, that it is an inhumane conducted attempt to whip out the seal population and therefore needs to be stopped altogether. The issue is much more complicated than that and deserves a better and fairer treatment.

  3. Here’s another way to look at this issue.The debate about fish, seals, fishing and sealing over the years has been conducted largely between sets of data. There have been very few attempts to address the issues on the level at which all involved stake their claims: the level that affirms life.I see study after study trotted out one way or the other to support sides in the debate. But the truth of the matter is that neither side wants to hear the other side’s story. It’s as if I were Catholic, and you kept hammering away at me on how good Islam is. It might be a great religion, but I’m not interested in the story. I find my spirituality path in Catholicism. MORE stories about Islam don’t make me more interested in following that path. In the same way, the complete inability of people to actually communicate around these issues has meant that, for all the bluster, hurt, frustration and anger, the fish are gone, the seals are dying, communities are dying and lives, histories and traditions are disappearing. People are using the media to talk to people who aren’t involved in the issue. they are spending their energy doing that rather than finding ways to actually talk to people involved. To the Premier’s credit, he did extend and invitation to McCartney to join him for a conversation. Nothing bad can come of that. So far, the debate has only served scarcity, and we have got what we asked for. There is hardly anything left that we can work with: no cod, no market for seals, no livelihoods for people who have grown up on the ice edge having mastered that way of life and no other, and no future for communities. Trust me, the way the debate is going, we will only see more of the same, and within a generation, there will be none of it left. Even the frigging ice is disappearing. And so, if we are to choose life in this conversation, perhaps we need to turn our attention to what we want more of, and that is abundance. Abundance of animals, money, peace, work, tradition and future. And so we need to ask the questions and hold the conversations about this: for the anti-sealers, the issue is finding the opposite of cruelty. Maybe we call that grace. So the questions is, how can we enable grace in the world? How do we engage gracefully? Is it possible to be cruelty free in life right down to the level of conversation? Do we really know what it feels like to be a Newfoundland sealer? Can we find compassion there?For the sealer, the same. We want people to leave us alone, we want peace. We want to be able to earn a living without it seeming to take a huge toll on ourselves. How can we find peace in our work? We talk about the toll the collapse of the fihery and the sealry has taken on our families. How are we fixing that ourselves? How do we contribute to that stress and violence? What work can we do that brings us abundance again, a thriving community?These are the internal questions, and perhaps they generate the kind of momentum that propels sides into respectful, life affirming conversation with one another. So if you are involved in this issue, here’s my question. What are the questions you need to ask of yourselves? What are the conversations you need to have with “the other side?”And you can call me a pipe dreamer, and say that this isn’t practical, and it’s impossible. And my response would be, well I’ve tried stuff like this with fishermen and ranchers and loggers and it seems to work a little and anyway, we’ve tried anger, violence and science and it has brought us to this point. Where we perpetrate more of the same, we should probably expect more of the same. Where we are prepared to transcend this current situation, at all levels, that is where we are most likely to find something new. And I know for certain that this particular situation is not going to be resolved unless everyone can co-create the way forward. Or unless one side kills the other off. Every player in the field has a choice to make: life-affirming or life-denying. Wise action and wise speech means not pointing fingers until you’re sure that you’re actually contributing to a better way of doing things. My suspicion is that anyone who is not yet actually framing questions of inclusion and change has more work to do.

  4. Sorry about that…paragraph breaks don’t seem to work.

  5. MKB says:

    Chris, as a Newfoundlander some of what you say rings true to me and some of what you say I find incorrect. First, I’ll just deal with the greatest inaccuracy in your comment: “no market for seals”. There is actually a great demand for the products that are produced from the annual seal hunt. This is one of the reasons why Newfoundlanders are fighting to maintain the hunt. The use of almost all of the animal for various commercial products and their economic viability is a reality, which is why it isn’t an easy thing to walk away from. I mean let’s face it, if no one was busy this stuff or if (as the propaganda running on VOCM from the animal rights groups were true – that the boycotts of other species by select American and European restaurants was costing the province more than what they are making from the seal hunt) it was not commercially viable, no one would do it.You comment that ran truest for me as: “Even the frigging ice is disappearing.” This is a reality that may have far more drastic consequences on the seal population than the seal hunt. Seal pups need the ice pans to live on until they are old enough to live on their own. With a disappearing ice flow, more and more pups are dying of natural causes. It was only a few years back some 200 or so washes up on the coast of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, after having died when their ice melted in the Gulf. This is an environmental issue that you could even gather the support of Newfoundland sealers to address, as it will have a more dramatic effect on this species than their hunt ever will.

  6. Yes. Sacred Balance. Yes.

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Well, the latter comments are much better, but I’m not sure what to add — this is pretty much a matter of opinion and I don’t think we’re going to change any minds. I was bombarded with positive e-mails on this article from people who didn’t want their views seen in the comments thread, which is interesting. Updates: two days ago (March 30) the ‘desperately needed cull’ of seals was slowed down — because of a shortage of seals. And yesterday, a day after swearing they had nothing to hide, the Harper government banned the US Humane Society from observing the slaughter.

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