Confessions of a career criminal
Paul Watson, National Post
I must confess it: I am a proud and unrepentant career criminal.
Since 1976, I have repeatedly disobeyed my government by opposing the annual Canadian slaughter of seals.
I refuse to call it a "hunt." Bashing in the heads of helpless young seals in a nursery is an obscene slaughter. It is not a hunt.
I have been repeatedly beaten, arrested, threatened, jailed and fined for three decades, and I will continue to be a repeat offender for the next three decades if need be.
They arrested me in 1979 for painting baby harp seals with an indelible organic dye to damage the commercial value of the pelts. They arrested me again in 1981 for taking a kayak out to the seals. And again in 1983 for blocking sealing ships in the ice. They arrested me in 1993 for chasing foreign draggers off the Grand Banks and they arrested me in 2005 for the "crime" of approaching within half a nautical mile of a seal hunt without permission from the government.
In total, the government of Canada has spent many millions of dollars trying to punish me and my crew for our compassion for the seals.
In the latest round, the government charged 11 crew members of the ship Farley Mowat (of which I am captain) after they were assaulted by sealers on the ice off Prince Edward Island on March 31, 2005. The crew were under orders by me to photograph the sealers and not to defend themselves if attacked. They were hit with fists, boots and sealing clubs. They took the blows, and despite two cameras being destroyed, they documented the entire assault.
The sealers weren't charged because, according to the RCMP, my crew provoked the violence by filming them.
Instead, Fisheries officers accused my crew of violating the Marine Mammal regulations, which state that "no person shall, except under the authority of a seal fishery observation licence ... approach within one-half nautical mile of a person who is on the ice fishing for seals."
A few months later, they decided to charge me, too. They also threw in some charges under the Canada Shipping Act for good measure.
We responded by initiating a legal challenge to the regulations preventing our access to the seal hunt. Our position is that depriving us of access to the area where seals are killed is a violation of the free-expression rights contained in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In her judgment, Prince Edward Island Judge Nancy Orr exhibited some appreciation for this argument. She wrote: "The applicant's right to freedom of expression has been infringed in this case by the provisions of sections 32 and 33 of the Marine Mammal regulations."
But in the next paragraph, she ruled that the government's infringement of our rights was justified under the loophole contained in Section 1 of the Charter: "The [Canadian government] has clearly shown on the evidence in this matter that these regulations are demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." And so, our defence on Charter grounds was rejected.
We also noted that the regulations do not apply "to a person who resides within one-half nautical mile of a person who is on the ice fishing for seals." And we argued that our ship, the Farley Mowat, was our place of residence.
The judge accepted this argument and I was acquitted because, as captain, I never left the ship.
My crew, on the other hand, had walked across the ice to document the sealers' actions. And so they were judged guilty of the dastardly crime of documenting the seal hunt. They have been ordered to pay $1,000 in fines each.
They will not do so. They have elected to go to jail and to engage in a hunger strike on behalf of the seals instead. We also intend to launch further appeals.
Moreover, we intend to return once again to oppose the cruelty and the obscenity of the largest mass slaughter of marine mammals in the world.
During the last three years, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans has permitted the destruction of over one million young seals in a heavily subsidized program that has sullied the reputation of this great nation with the stain of cruelty. As long as seals are clubbed and shot, their bodies skinned alive, and the ice nurseries of the harp and hood seals stained with blood, my crew and I will continue to oppose the policy of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
If opposing this slaughter is a crime, then we are proud to be compassionate criminals defending life from the profits of destruction.