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CHARLOTTETOWN, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND�I write this journal not from the ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where I should be documenting the seal hunt, but instead from Prince Edward Island.
Today I am ashamed of the behavior of my government�the Canadian government�which sunk to new lows to keep observers from recording the commercial slaughter of baby seals for their fur. In my eight years on the ice during the annual Canadian seal hunt, I have never seen such blatant misuse of power to stop observers from bearing witness to the cruelty on ice.
Late yesterday afternoon, I and six other legally permitted observers�including five staff members from The Humane Society of the United States and one media representative�were arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for allegedly violating the terms of our observation permits by coming within 10 meters of a sealing vessel while that vessel was in pursuit of seals.
Hours earlier, two sealing vessels had repeatedly charged at our small inflatable boats, putting us at risk as our boats pitched back and forth in their wake. Our main vessel was stationed nearby, and recognizing the threat we were under, our captain radioed a nearby Canadian Coast Guard boat twice, asking the Coast Guard for assistance. He received no response.
Thankfully, the sealers grew tired of their dangerous antics, and the two vessels moved off separately into the ice floes. We followed one, determined to continue documenting the slaughter.
Our two inflatable boats trailed the sealing vessel through the ice at a safe distance�at least 30 meters away. But suddenly the sealers turned around and cut us off. With heavy ice on one side and the sealing vessel bearing down on the other, we had no choice but to cross quickly in front of the sealing vessel to escape a collision.
At that moment, officers from the RCMP and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) exited the cabin of the sealing boat where they had been hidden from view. They called us over and accused us of having been within 10 meters of a sealing vessel. The RCMP officers immediately confiscated our footage of the hunt (including footage showing how we came to cross in front of the sealers' vessel) and then informed us that we were under arrest for violating the conditions of our observation permits. The five observers who were not Canadian were brought to the Coast Guard vessel and handcuffed. The Coast Guard held them for five and a half hours before finally returning them to our vessel.
No charges have yet been filed, but it has been made crystal clear to us by representatives of the DFO that they will not issue us any observation permits while the matter is being investigated. By the time this is resolved, the hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence will be over.
In a calculated political move, the Canadian authorities have effectively prevented The HSUS and any journalists who might be riding in our boats or helicopters from documenting the rest of this hunt. But their efforts are in vain: We have already filmed hours of the killing, and the footage is posted on our website.
As we waited for the American and British observers held captive on the Coast Guard boat to be returned to us, I stood on the deck of our vessel. It was now completely dark, and the sealing boats had already moved miles away from us to anchor for the night. As I looked out across the black ocean, I saw the massive and brightly lit Coast Guard boat stationed about half a mile away.
In the quiet, I began slowly coming to terms with the knowledge that the Canadian government will sink to any depths to protect the sealing industry.
I shouldn�t have been surprised, but somehow I was. In the back of my mind, I had always hoped that the Coast Guard presence at the seal hunt each year might be intended to ensure the safety of observers as well. But a line was crossed when the Coast Guard failed to respond to our distress calls but came to the aid of the sealers by arresting seven peaceful observers for the alleged crime of getting out of the way of a sealing boat. It has now become very clear to me that if you try to document this hunt, the Canadian government will define you as its opponent.
Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Canadians oppose this seal hunt, the government agencies that are represented at this hunt�the RCMP, the DFO, and the Coast Guard�are there for one reason and one reason only: to stop the public from seeing the cruelty that happens just off the east coast.
The hunt is continuing, and I am devastated that we are unable to continue to bear witness. But I take some small comfort in the knowledge that the Canadian government would not sink to these depths unless it was very afraid of the effectiveness of our ProtectSeals campaign. I know that the government�s attempts to stop us from spreading the word about the obscenity that is the seal hunt have failed. We are winning.
Earlier in the day, two silvery adult harp seals swam by our inflatables, diving in and out of the water in tandem. They came close and then turned to gaze on us with their luminous black eyes. For a moment I felt like they were giving us a message, thanking us for our perseverance. I looked back and mentally promised them that we would do everything in our power to end this hunt for good.
The hunt observers, the seals, and the public have all been failed by my government. But I know with absolute certainty that with your support, The HSUS and our powerful network of like-minded organizations and individuals will make good on our promise�that we will end the Canadian seal slaughter.
It is only a matter of time.