Canada. Trial of seal hunt observers threatens right to witness annual slaughter

Monday, 22 October 2007

Five defendants are set to stand trial in the Magdalen Islands Thursday, accused of violating their observation permits during the 2006 East Coast seal hunt.

The defendants are representatives of the Humane Society International and Humane Society of the United States. After documenting the commercial seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in March, 2006, from their vessel, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) charged them with violating a 10-metre barrier restriction around sealing vessels and sealers.

The defendants - Canadians Rebecca Aldworth and Andrew Plumbly, Americans Chad Sisneros and Pierre Grzybowski, and British citizen Mark Glover - were present on the ice floes to bear witness to the annual cruelty of the seal slaughter, providing video evidence of baby seals being clubbed and skinned alive to concerned citizens around the world. The charges against them are part of an effort by the Canadian government to close the curtain on this gruesome enterprise. The defendants look forward to the trial, in which their counsel will introduce video evidence disproving the charges.

More important, the trial will be a significant test to put an end to the Canadian government's ongoing effort to prevent the world from witnessing the true extent of the barbarity of the commercial seal hunt.

"The commercial seal hunt occurs in public space," said Clayton Ruby, legal counsel for the defendants. "Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, not to mention our good standing in the pantheon of democratic nations, allows citizens to document an activity in order to educate others who cannot bear witness for themselves."

Currently, the federal government is attempting to amend the Marine Mammal Regulations to further restrict observation of the seal hunt.

The observers have been accused of violating the 10-metre barrier while in an inflatable boat filming seal hunters killing seal pups on the ice. At the time, they were briefly detained by RCMP and DFO officials and had their government-issued permits revoked.

It wasn't until six months later, in September, 2006, when charges were laid against the observers. The charges are not criminal in nature, but penalties can be assessed under Canada's Fisheries Act.

The charges were laid after the European Parliament passed a historic resolution calling for an EU ban on the trade in harp and hooded seal products. HSUS and HSI representatives were quoted in most Canadian newspaper stories written on the subject. Canada's Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn responded, "if they want a war over this, they bloody well got one."

Closer to home, the Canadian government is also facing economic pressure as a consequence of a HSUS and HSI boycott of Canadian snow crab and other seafood.

"This case is a clear attempt by the Canadian government to block independent parties from chronicling the seal hunt, and intimidate those who oppose it. Their actions go beyond merely endorsing the seal hunt. They are attempting to set a precedent that will allow government bodies to impose its will on citizens doing their civic duty in many other forums," Ruby said.

"No matter what you think of the seal hunt, all Canadians should be concerned about this attack on their democratic rights," he added.

With the trial set to begin October 18, 2007, in Havres aux Maisons, Iles de la Madeleine (Madgalen Islands), Quebec, the world will be watching. An information site has been set up to provide up-to-date information about the trial and the evidence.

Last Updated ( Monday, 22 October 2007 )