Statement – EU Court Decision on Seal Skin Imports
May 9, 2013
Honourable Senators, I rise to express my outrage about the April 25 decision of the General Court of the European Union to reject, on a technicality, an appeal from Inuit of Canada on the European Union regulation banning the import of seal products to Europe.
In a press release announcing their decision, the Court, in an extraordinarily self satisfied and self justifying statement devoted the first sentence of the release to an assertion that:
‘ EU law protects the fundamental economic and social interests of Inuit communities which hunt seal as an integral part of their culture and identity.’
But the court’s same judgment, referring to the Inuit concerns that the European seal ban drastically reduces the market for seal products, and thereby the return to Inuit hunters said that:
‘Such considerations, which are very general in nature and not substantiated, do not demonstrate that the Inuit communities have suffered harm which is disproportionate compared with the objective pursued by the basic regulation.’
That objective, the Court ruled, is to harmonize the regulatory regime throughout the EU after several member states expressed what the Court described as serious concerns by members of the public and governments sensitive to animal welfare considerations because of the suffering caused to these animals when they were killed and skinned.
So logically the Court’s conclusion is that the Inuit did suffer proportionate harm, whatever that means – or that the Court is indifferent if they did. I read this as asserting that the EU need to harmonize markets in Europe is infinitely more important than the harm caused to the Inuit traditional way of life.
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated President Cathy Towtoongie expressed her outrage over the Court’s attitude towards Inuit in the following terms:
‘Respect for Indigenous Peoples in the contemporary world means accepting that Indigenous Peoples are best positioned to know their self-interests. It is arrogant and condescending for an EU court to claim to know better particularly when it is abundantly clear that the seal ban adds to the difficult economic and social challenges being faced by Inuit. It amounts to an attack on our way of life.’
Nunavut’s Environment Minister, Hon. James Arreak, similarly describe the EU seal ban, which has effectively killed the seal products market in Europe, including Omega 3 oil and high quality seal leather, as:
‘…a senseless attack on the Inuit culture.’
The Court also paternalistically rejected the assertion of Inuit in the case that their traditional seal hunt has always been practiced in a humane and efficient manner, endorsing the European Food Safety Authority assertion that:
‘…although it might be possible to kill and skin seals in such a way as to avoid unnecessary pain, distress, fear or other forms of suffering, given the conditions in which seal hunting occurs, consistent verification and control of hunters’ compliance with animal welfare requirements is not feasible in practice or, at least, is very difficult to achieve in an effective way…”
In other words, we do not trust the Inuit assertion because we cannot monitor their seal hunt.
No wonder NTI President Cathy Towtoongie called the EU Court decision colonial.
While paying lip service to the Inuit traditional seal hunt and citing its respect for their indigenous rights as enshrined in the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights, the European Court said that there had been insufficient evidence presented to the Court that the Inuit way of life will be jeopardized by this ban.
However, when it comes to relying on evidence in favour of the ban, the Court’s evidentiary standards are not so high.
Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Terry Glavin has reported (Ottawa Citizen, May 3, In Europe Our Sea Weasels Are Sacred):
‘To understand what the EU means when it uses words like, say, “inhumane,” you need to turn to its main documentary evidence on the seal hunt’s “ethical” and therefore “moral” implications. It is a 2005 report that shows up as Exhibit EU-35, authored by a certain “Prof. A. Linzey,” titled “Public Morality and the Canadian Hunt.” Professor who?
Andrew Linzey, a pioneer in the Christian Vegetarianism Movement, is now director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. As Glavin said in his article, Professor Linzey’s evidence is relied on over that of the Inuit ‘….because he is English, wears his collar backwards, and holds an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.’
The EU ban and the Court’s judgment is a senseless attack on the Inuit culture and a threat to all forms of sustainable wildlife use, said Minister Arreak. Despite the EU’s assertion that the Inuit exemption to the ban protects Inuit, we know for a fact that it does not, he said.
I congratulate Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and our government for supporting them in their efforts to overturn the European ban on seal products.
An appeal remains before the EU Court, which I am hopeful will be judged on its merits and will show respect for the Inuit traditional way of life, culture and identity as the EU Court claims it wants to do.