Environmentalists allege Ottawa permitting Criminal Code violations,
and call for formal investigation
June 26, 2007
The federal government is ignoring wildlife conservation laws and
permitting violations of the Criminal Code's animal welfare
provisions in the annual seal hunt, a major Mexican environmental
The Mexican Centre for Environmental Law says Ottawa's failure to
enforce conservation and animal-cruelty laws in the seal hunt, the
world's largest marine mammal hunt, is so extensive it has asked the
Commission for Environmental Co-operation, the NAFTA environmental
watchdog, to launch a formal investigation.
In a filing submitted yesterday to the Montreal-based CEC, the group
also alleges that Ottawa is allowing such high numbers of seals to
be killed each year, including regular quota overruns, that it could
deplete the population and cause "serious or irreversible damage to
the northwest Atlantic ecosystem."
When Canada, the United States and Mexico set up NAFTA's
environmental watchdog in the mid-1990s, the thinking was that
Mexico, with its spotty environmental record and status as the
poorest of the three trade partners, would need the most policing on
But as this new filing shows, conservationists at the group think
the Canadian government needs international oversight to make it
adhere to environmental rules and good conservation practices.
The CEC doesn't have legal power to fine countries, but can issue
reports known as factual records that review whether governments are
failing to enforce their laws effectively, with the hope that
adverse publicity will force better compliance.
If the CEC decides to investigate, it will be one of the first
independent reviews of Canadian claims that it is following good
conservation management practices when it comes to seal populations,
and that the hunt - which involves the clubbing, shooting, and
skinning on ice floes of young seals - is conducted with the minimum
Earlier this year, Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn announced that
sealers would be allowed to kill 270,000 animals, and he put in
place new measures to prevent hunters from exceeding their quotas.
He also said the department would try to get a new estimate of the
seal population by next year, rather than 2009 as previously planned.
The Foreign Affairs Department was unable to comment on the group's
The Mexican group, known in Spanish as the Centro Mexicano de
Derecho Ambiental, or CEMDA, compiled a 20-page analysis of why it
believes Ottawa is failing in its management of the hunt.
Among its concerns are that the government has allowed more animals
to be killed, up to 350,000 in recent years, than the sustainable
yield of 250,000 estimated by federal scientists. In four of the
five years from 2002 to 2006, the quota was exceeded.
The Mexican group also says there is considerable scientific
uncertainty about the actual size of the seal population. While the
fisheries department estimates it is around 5.5 million, the actual
number could be over counted or undercounted by as much as 2
million, given the difficulties of figuring out an animal population
over such a wide area of open water.
If the actual number is at the low end of the range, and global
warming continues to undermine the sea ice that seals need to give
birth to pups, the group said Ottawa will be guilty of serious
The group also contended that the hunt violates Criminal Code
provisions against animal cruelty because few hunters check to see
if all the animals they club or shoot are dead or unconscious before
The main test of this is to poke the seals in the eye to see if
there is a blinking reflex. The group cited one study that found 79
per cent of sealers failed to conduct this test.