One of the most prominent Inuit sealing advocates says a new anti-commercial sealing video from PETA continues "devastating" negative stereotypes against the industry.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video on social media Monday with graphic images of the commercial seal hunt on Canada's East Coast. The post includes a link to an online petition calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to end federal subsidies for seal hunters.
Aaju Peter, an Inuk sealskin-seamstress and subject of the documentary Angry Inuk, says PETA's facts are misleading and continue a long anti-sealing message from animal rights groups.
"It creates a bad taste and a bad image when PETA says baby seals are slaughtered," Peter said. "They're not babies. Human beings have babies. They are seal pups and they're old enough to be harvested."
"These videos are devastating for our communities," she said
PETA has long-advocated for ending the commercial seal hunt off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, but says it supports Inuit hunters who hunt seal for their communities.
"The commercial seal slaughter has nothing whatsoever to do with the Inuit sustenance hunt," said Ashley Byrne, a PETA spokeswoman. She said PETA supports re-training hunters involved in the seal hunt.
"The Canadian government hides behind Native people in a dishonest attempt to justify the commercial slaughter, but they are not the same."
But Peter challenges this, saying PETA's efforts to marginalize sealers hurts Inuit hunters who cannot make money from their hunt. She's calling on Northerners to write to the prime minister as well, telling their side of the story.
"[PETA] says there is no market. They crushed the market," she said. "They made life very, very difficult."
By The Canadian Press
The East Coast seal hunt has another celebrity foe: X-Files star Gillian Anderson.
Anderson has called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to end the annual commercial hunt.
In a letter Wednesday to the prime minister, Anderson says, “climate change is already decimating ice-dependent seals.”
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans issued an emailed statement saying the Canadian government is committed to supporting a sustainable, humane and well-regulated harvest.
As well, the department said the government recognizes the “economic and cultural value of sealing” to those Canadians who take part in the fishery.
“Fisheries officers routinely conduct inspections during the seal harvest at sea, in port, and using aerial surveillance to record sealing activity,” the email says.
Anderson, an American actress, has filmed multiple projects in Canada for over 20 years.
She said the seal hunt puts “a stain on Canada’s international reputation.”
By Charles Avenengo
Gov. Gina Raimondo signed a law last July that established the harbor seal as the official state marine mammal. It is the first time any state has selected a seal for such a designation, and it marked an environmental consciousness regarding seals that has evolved dramatically over the past 50 years.
Until 1962, coastal communities in Maine and Massachusetts paid a $5 bounty to seal hunters for each pelt. One study revealed that 40,000 bounties were paid by those two states, a figure that didn’t include seals that escaped after being shot. The same study indicated that more than 135,000 seals may have been killed during the bounty hunt, as fishermen viewed seals as competition to their livelihood.
How things have changed. Today, the environmental organization, Save the Bay, conducts seal tours, with guides providing an educational view of the winter marine visitors. The tours cruise through historic Newport Harbor and take in 360-degree views of seals resting on Citing Rock off of Rose Island and the Newport Bridge.
While Rhode Island didn’t offer a bounty years ago, such bounties were paid in Bristol County, Mass., which shares the length of the eastern border of Rhode Island. Nevertheless, seal sightings in the Ocean State were scarce during that time. According to “The Mammals of Rhode Island” by John Cronan and Albert Brooks, there were only six seal sightings in the state between 1957 and 1968.
Then came the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which provided the seals with federal protection. By the mid-1980s, their numbers had increased to at least two wintering congregations, called haul-outs. One was just north of Lone Tree Point in North Kingstown, and the other was, appropriately, on Seal Rock, one half-mile south of Ocean Drive.
As seals increased in numbers, a cottage industry sprang to life to observe the marine mammals. In 1997, the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation was taking passengers to view them on the rocks just northeast of the island. Not long after, Oldport Marine, spearheaded by the late Ron Ackman, followed suit. By 2002, Save the Bay and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island were also offering tours.
This ecotourism thrived for more than a decade, with nearly 100 tours carrying 1,000 passengers on an annual basis. And while Rose Island and Oldport Marine no longer offer tours, Save the Bay has expanded its operations to include cruises from Fall River and Westerly. The Audubon Society also offers a limited number of land-based opportunities to see the seals at Rome Point, North Kingstown, and Prudence Island.
Meanwhile, Save the Bay has been active on another front with seal monitoring. Since 1994, the environmental outfit has conducted point counts. Every year on a designated day, volunteer observers count seals at 20 haul-outs throughout Rhode Island. The 2016 count produced 603 seals, the highest to date.
While all this activity has been focused primarily on harbor seals, other species of seals began to make their presence known beginning around 2000. Most notable among them was the harp seal, which was recorded in Rhode Island for the first time in 300 years.
Harp seals were the cornerstone of the environmental activism movement that evolved in the 1970s. When born in the icy realm of the Canadian Maritimes, harp seals have a pure white coat, which was harvested for furs to be used in the fashion industry. Enter the birth of Greenpeace and a seal-hunting moratorium. As a result, harp seal numbers increased from an estimated 1 to 6 million.
With the population explosion, displaced immature harp seals began working their way south into local waters. Unlike the more familiar harbor seals that are found on rocky ledges and outcroppings, the immature harp seals are usually found on sandy beaches. Researchers surmise that from a harp seal’s perspective, beaches are attractive resting sites because they resemble their natal ice.
Two more species, gray seals and hooded seals, likewise arrived at the turn of the century. Gray seals are enormous, with males weighing up to 800 pounds. While their numbers in Rhode Island remain low, gray seals have become a fixture at South Monomoy Island off of Chatham, Cape Cod, generating enormous publicity, as the seals are a food source for the sinister, great white shark. Despite that, a 2016 aerial survey indicated the presence of a staggering 25,000 gray seals.
So, like the Phoenix who rises from the ashes, so have the seals.
Newport Seal Watch Cruises
For more than 15 years, Save the Bay seal tours and nature cruises have been proof that summer isn’t the only time to enjoy the bay. Through the end of April, seal tours and nature cruises are being offered out of Newport. Guides provide an educational view of the winter marine visitors. Save the Bay education vessels motor through historic Newport Harbor and take in 360-degree views of seals resting on Citing Rock off of Rose Island and the Newport Bridge. One-hour seal tours are boat-based, while two-hour tours include a tour of Rose Island Lighthouse.
For the schedule and more information, visit savethebay.org
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Forty years ago on March 15th, 1977, French film star Brigitte Bardot traveled to the ice floes off the Eastern Coast of Canada to focus attention on the slaughter of baby whitecoat seals.
Her arrival was met with hostility by Newfoundland sealers and by the Canadian government, yet despite harassment and ugly threats she rode in my helicopter far offshore to meet the seals.
She was fearless. We flew through blizzard conditions with very poor visibility to over a hundred miles off the coast.
Upon arrival in the midst of thousands of seals, she posed cheek to cheek with a baby seal for photos that circulated around the globe and brought the issue of the slaughter of the seal pups to a global audience.
For the two previous years, we had worked to get media attention to this atrocity on the Eastern Canadian icefloes. The media had ignored us.
That all changed with the arrival of Brigitte Bardot.
The baby seals now had a guardian angel. Bardot and the baby seal appeared on the cover of magazines around the globe.
By 1984, the slaughter of newborn whitecoats was abolished and the market for whitecoat seal products ended.
The genesis of this achievement was Brigitte Bardot’s courageous invasion of the ice floes in defense of le petite bebe phoques.
The killing continued with the government allowing the slaughter of seals after they have shed their whitecoats. The lack of a sizeable market was met with Canadian government subsidies and although the quotas were raised, the kill numbers dropped due to lack of demand. In 2008, the market for seal pelts was once again struck a blow with a complete ban on seal products by the European Parliament.
In 2011, the government in a spiteful move set a new quota at 400,000 seals a year.
Over the last six years, the 400,000 number has never been reached. In fact, the total number of seals killed in all six years since 2011 is about 350,000.
There is no doubt that what Brigitte Bardot did in 1977 has saved the lives of millions of seals, an achievement that animal lovers around the world applaud and recognize her for.
So this year I wanted to honor her by sending an all female team to the ice floes to meet the baby seals.
I chose Sea Shepherd Toronto Director Brigitte Breau to be the team leader. It was her job to organize the logistics. The rest of the crew consisted of my wife Yana Watson, Canadian Animal Rights lawyer Camille Labchuk, Clementine Pallanca from Monaco and Hollywood movie star Michelle Rodriguez. In addition we had two helicopter pilots and Omar Todd to handle I.T. back at the base in Charlottetown.
Along with them were videographers Canadian Marketa Schusterova, Jasmine Lord from Australia and French photographer Bernard Sidler.
It was a simple mission. Take two helicopters, fly to the seals on the ice and take some pictures with some baby seals. An easy mission or so we thought.
A few days before their arrival, the team received a shock when they viewed Satellite images of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. What they saw, we had never seen before.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence was completely ice-free.
For over four decades I have traveled to the ice floes and each time I had to work my ship through many miles of solid pack ice. Often the ice was so think and hard it stopped our progress completely, ice so extensive we could step off the ship and walk for miles without seeing any open water.
What the crew saw this year was an endless blue, with patches of ice so thin it could not be safely walked upon.
For Camille Labchuk, who was raised in Prince Edward Island before becoming an Animal Rights lawyer in Ottawa, what she saw was astounding. “We flew over the Gulf of St. Lawrence in search of the harp seal nursery, we witnessed some of the worst ice conditions I have ever seen. When I was growing up in PEI, it was normal for the Gulf to be packed all winter long with the thick, solid sea ice that harp seals need to give birth and nurse their young. This year marks a decade since my first trip off the coast of P.E.I. in search of seals and it is heartbreaking to witness how rapidly climate change has destroyed the harp seal habitat. With thousands of baby seals drowning as the ice melts from underneath them, it is utterly irresponsible for the Canadian government to continue to allow sealers to cruelly club and shoot the surviving seals.”
This was not good.
Without the ice the seals cannot be found. The ice is essential for the seals to give birth to their pups. The Latin name for the harp seal is Pagophilus groenlandicus or the ‘ice lover from Greenland.’ The ice floes are their nurseries, and now that hard ice security was nowhere to be found.
The helicopters flew out on the first day without spotting a single seal or a piece of ice safe enough to stand on. This was tragic news. If the mother could not find ice, they would be forced to drop their pups in the sea where they would immediately drown.
The crew quickly realized that there was now something more threatening to the seals than the club wielding sealers.
On the second day of searching, the team found a few hundred seal pups and their mothers on a small patch of shore fast ice along the coastline of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
Photo opportunities were difficult. Every year tourists arrive to be flown out by helicopter to meet the baby seals, but not this year. There were few places to land and the ice conditions, where ice could be found was dangerously broken up. The tours had been cancelled. The Sea Shepherd women had to jump from one ice pan to another to reach a seal pup.
Clementine found one very small little pup with the umbilical cord attached and this was not a good sign. The seals should have been about two weeks old at this point but this little fellow was recently born, a sign that its mother had been searching for the ice to finally give birth.
Clementine Pallanca was with Yana when they both met the seals for the first time. Just like Brigitte Bardot forty years earlier both women were captivated by these snowy white babies. Said Clementine, “they have amazing big dark eyes and a beautiful deep look that really melted my heart. I spent an extraordinary moment, playing and cuddling them. I felt I had a privilege to witness them, because the situation with the disappearing ice is tragic.
For Yana, a new mother herself, it was a very sad encounter. “I have a son of 5 months old. I was just imagining for a moment how I would feel if somebody came to my house and beat my little baby to death in front of me or to skin him alive leaving me with the dying bleeding body. The horror is unimaginable but this is the horror that tens of thousands of mother seals experience every year.”
Michelle Rodriguez arrived on the third day. A blizzard moved in during the night but fortunately the skies were clear the next morning. The helicopters returned to the ice where the seals had been found two days before but to their great disappointment, both the seals and the ice were gone.
The pilots took into account the change of the wind and relocated the patch of ice, miles off shore. The ice patch was smaller and badly broken up and there were fewer seals than two days before.
Michelle was not going to let the opportunity be lost because of potentially dangerous ice conditions. The ice was too unstable to land, a steady swell was moving through the loose pack and as the helicopter hovered a few inches above a bobbing small pan of ice, she jumped, followed by Yana and photographer Bernard Sidler.
The three of them had to hike a little bit to reach the seals because the helicopters had to land a safe distance from the new born pups so as not to frighten them.
It was not easy going. The wind was bitingly cold and the ice pans were grinding together. A slip between two pans of ice would be potentially fatal. The two women had to jump from pan to pan and to leap across small patches of water and slush.
“It was worth the risk,” said Michelle. “They are such beautiful creatures.”
The second helicopter was unable to locate any seals and had to land in the Magdalen Islands in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to refuel.
This is not a friendly place if you are opposed to the killing of seals. In 1995, I led a team to the Magdalens to promote alternative employment to killing seals. My crew including actor Martin Sheen and many journalists were assaulted and I was beaten severely.
Twenty-two years later Brigitte and Marketa left the helicopter to use the restroom and to get a cup of tea in the small airport terminal, only to find that the animosity by the sealers towards seal defenders was a strong as ever.
Said Brigitte, “when we entered the terminal, we were almost immediately blocked and confronted by an aggressive man who grabbed, shoved, and jabbed me in the back, while other men stood nearby menacingly. We tried to leave but were confronted by a second aggressive man who attempted to block our exit from the terminal.”
They managed to get back to their helicopter and returned to Prince Edward Island to regroup.
Bernard took numerous pictures of Michelle with the baby seals. The objective of honoring Brigitte Bardot by revisiting the seals four decades later was achieved but in a far different manner than planned.
When she returned from her experience with the seal pups, Michelle Rodriguez said “I was expecting to see thousands of seals on a solid ice pack. What I saw is an ecological disaster.”
These were not the same conditions in which Brigitte had landed in 1977. What the crew were looking at was a far greater threat to the survival of the harp seals than the ruthless seal hunters.
Without the ice the seals cannot survive and it will be climate change that will be their undoing with frightful consequences for humanity.
By Sheryl Fink
I remember going to the East Coast seal hunt for the first time in 2001. As the helicopter approached the seal nursery, I strained in anticipation to catch my first glimpse of the seal pups resting on the ice far below. Instead, giant pools of red blood scattered with piles of skinned carcasses were the first signs of life below; life that was no longer.
During my 12 years of observing the commercial hunt, the ritual remained much the same. A Coast Guard vessel breaks the ice to allow access to the harp seal birthing areas, the sealers’ vessels following in a line like baby ducks. At dusk the horizon is filled with sealing vessels, the black puffs of diesel and incessant hum of engines filling the air. At dawn the massacre begins. The boats begin to smash their way through the ice, trying to get as close as possible to large concentrations of pups. The sealers’ helicopter is constantly overhead, swinging wildly as it slings stacks of skins from the ice to the boats. When they are finished, all that remains are bloody piles of hundreds of seal carcasses. The bodies of skinned pups are left on the ice, their little skulls crushed by a hakapik, eyes bulging wildly from their sockets. And occasionally we would find lone pups that managed to escape, crawling through the pools of blood crying and confused, gently nosing the dead bodies of their companions.
This is a mass commercial slaughter, not a ‘hunt’ as most people think of it. In one year, the quota of several hundred thousand pups was reached in less than two days.
If you had never seen those massive piles of skins and carcasses, the hundreds of sealing vessels and their helicopters, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no difference between the East Coast seal hunt and Inuit seal hunting. Although I’ve never observed the Inuit seal hunt, what I have personally witnessed at the commercial hunt is a far cry from Inuit hunting depicted in films like Angry Inuk, or on Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations, or how the hunt has been described to me by Inuit I’ve met. The Inuit hunt is characterized by showing respect for the animal, by using all parts of the animal, and by hunting methods that require skill and patience.
Yes, there are real, tangible differences between these two types of seal hunting. For these reasons, IFAW has never campaigned against the Inuit seal hunt. Our focus has always been on the commercial hunting of harp, hooded, and grey seals that takes place off of Canada’s east coast.
But what are some of the other differences between the Commercial Hunt and the Inuit Hunt? First, it is important to define what is meant by “the commercial seal hunt,” since Inuit sealing may also have a commercial component to it.
Different Hunts, different seals, different management:
The Canadian government defines “the commercial seal harvest” as the licensed hunting of harp, hooded and grey seals managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The total number of seals that may be killed is determined by an annual “Total Allowable Catch”.
Harp seals account for almost all the seals harvested commercially in Canada, followed by a small harvest of grey seals. The current Allowable Catch is 400,000 harp seals, and 60,000 grey seals.
Almost all of the seals (over 98 percent) killed in the commercial hunt are newly weaned pups aged three weeks to three months of age, called “beater” seals.
Inuit, on the other hand, hunt ringed and bearded seals, primarily for food. The federal government does not set Allowable Catches for these species. According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, an estimated 1,500 ringed seals and 50-200 bearded seals are thought to be taken annually in the North.
Participants in the commercial seal harvest are required to hold a commercial sealing licence, and must adhere to rules set out in the Marine Mammal Regulations and Conditions of Licence. The Canadian government estimates there were about 1320 active commercial licences in 2014.
On the other hand, aboriginal sealers and residents of Labrador north of 53°N latitude do not need a license to hunt seals for subsistence purposes, and Inuit sealers are not required to abide by the Marine Mammal Regulations.
The East coast commercial hunt is a hunt primarily for profit. According to Fisheries and Oceans statistics, the value of this hunt is in the pelt, with 92 percent of the meat going to waste. Inuit seal hunters, on the other hand, use all of the animal with very little waste. The hunting period occurs throughout the course of the year, and targets adult seals.
Different market impacts:
There are very little data available on Inuit exports of seal products, but the figures available suggest that the commercial aspect of the Inuit seal hunt is relatively small. Rather than being unable to sell their skins in the wake of the EU ban, there are not enough sealskins to meet demand.
Some claim that the 2009 EU ban on seal products resulted in Inuit being unable to sell their sealskins, despite the fact that Inuit are exempt from the ban. There are two reasons why this claim demands further scrutiny.
First, at the time of the ban the EU market only represented about 5% of Canada’s entire seal skin exports. In 2007-08 - more than one year prior to the EU seal ban - only 1,101 Nunavut seal pelts were sold at auction, representing approximately 0.4% of Canada’s commercial seal hunt. In 2008-09 – the year the EU ban came into place - Nunavut sales were actually slightly better: 4,059 pelts. Given the extremely small fraction of Canada’s sealskin exports that are Inuit skins, and the fact that the EU market was a very small market for seal skins in the first place, it seems likely that the impact of the ban on Inuit livelihoods is being overestimated.
Second, the EU ban did not result in a decrease in the amount earned by Inuit sealers for their seal skins. Since the 1980s, territorial governments have provided a pelt price support program to guarantee income for Inuit sealers, and to protect against market fluctuations in sealskin prices. The price paid to Inuit sealers remained approximately the same prior and post EU-ban.
According to an editorial in Nunatsiaq News, “in Nunavut, sealing is not an industry and never has been an industry. Though it’s an important expression of cultural identity, in hard cash, seal hunting contributes virtually nothing to Nunavut’s economy.”
When the federal government and others try to blur the differences between the East Coast seal hunt and the Inuit seal hunt, it’s important to remember that these hunts share little in common. It’s also instructive to understand why they are doing it: an internal government memo from 2001 explicitly outlines the Canadian government’s strategy of “playing the Nunavut Inuit card as leverage… [to gain access to markets for seal products] and have the east coast sealers follow.” And it’s also important to remember that IFAW has never campaigned against Inuit seal hunting — period.
In a few weeks, fishermen will take to the ice off Canada’s East Coast and kill as many seal pups as humanly possible in the space of a couple of weeks, in what has been proclaimed “the cruelest hunt in the world.” IFAW will continue to work to stop this cruelty. And we can only do it with your help.
March 3, 2017
The Swiss government has banned imports of most seal products from April 1. This measure brings its rules in line with those of the European Union.
The cabinet decided on Friday to ban the import of products such as seal meat, oil, fat, blubber, organs, fur and skins from the beginning of April.
Exceptions will be made for items from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit or other indigenous communities, and travelers will still be allowed to import seal products for personal use. Imports of seal products will also still be possible for exhibitions or for research purposes.
A government statement said that Swiss imports of seal products are "already minimal" and the new rules are unlikely to have a significant practical effect.
Apart from Canada, seal hunting is also permitted in Greenland and in Namibia. The meat, blubber and fur coats of seals have traditionally been used by indigenous people of the Artic. An estimated 900,000 seals are killed by humans every year.
A total of 30 countries have imposed bans on the import of seal products. In 2011, the organisations OceanCare and the Fondation Franz Weber submitted a petition to the Swiss parliament in Bern calling for a ban. The same year Swiss People's Party parliamentarian Oskar Freysinger submitted a motion 'Import ban on seal products' to parliament, which was accepted by the House of Representatives but suspended by the Senate.
By T'Cha Dunlevy
Alethea Arnaquq-Baril grew up eating seal meat. While her parents worked, she would get dropped at her grandparents’ house, where only Inuktitut was spoken. She has memories of going on “many, many, many, many, many” seal hunts with her family, and of eating seal meat fresh on the spot, in the snow. Those excursions, often led by her hunter grandfather, were a part of normal life.
“It’s a rude awakening when you realize it’s not normal for everybody, and millions of people out there judge you and think of you as less human for eating food right outside your door,” Arnaquq-Baril said, via Skype last week from Iqaluit, Nunavut.
The Inuit filmmaker was back home for a few days between festival appearances in Biarritz, France; Santa Barbara, California; the Yukon; and, next month Berlin, where her pro-sealing documentary Angry Inuk will screen as part of the prestigious Berlinale.
The film premièred last spring as part of Toronto’s Hot Docs festival, where it won the audience award; was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September and recently won the people’s choice award at Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival, a touring showcase of TIFF’s favourite Canadian features from the previous year; and screened at the Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal, winning the Women Inmates Award and the Magnus Isacsson Award.
Produced by the NFB in collaboration with Montreal’s EyeSteelFilm, Angry Inuk confronts the decades-long campaign by ecological and animal rights groups against sealing, showing the impact such initiatives have had on Inuit communities by taking away a primary source of income.
“I remember when I was young, hearing older people talk about Greenpeace and anti-sealers with frustration,” Arnaquq-Baril said, “not really understanding who they were talking about, but knowing there were people out there who see seal hunters as bad people.
“It took a long time to understand why we (the Inuit) were so unimportant to the outside world. We were more casualties of that battle. It wasn’t until I started making this film that I realized how clearly animal rights groups knew we were being affected.”
Arnaquq-Baril initially wanted to call her film War With Greenpeace, in reference to the NGO’s longstanding use of the seal hunt as an important fundraising tool. She uncovers a 1978 interview with former Greenpeace core member Paul Watson, who admits that though they’re misleading, anti-sealing campaigns bring in big bucks.
The sealing protest movement all but shut down the trade in 1983, when the Council of Ministers of the European Economic Community banned imports of harp seal pup skins. The decision led to harsh financial times for the Inuit, who make up the majority of seal-hunters, according to Arnaquq-Baril. And yet dominant images of the practice have portrayed it as a brutal industrial enterprise, downplaying or outright ignoring Inuit involvement.
“The tactics animal rights groups have used to silence the Inuit are mind-blowing,” the director said. “They’re quite fluent and very smart with public relations, and they’re very careful with semantics. They’ve been very successful in leveraging campaigns with celebrities into donations, and very careful to portray themselves as the little guy — these little NGOs against this huge commercial industry. In fact, animal rights groups have hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and (reap significant) revenues every year, even though there are only a few hundred commercial seal hunters in Canada while in the North there are thousands of Inuit hunters.”
Eight years in the making, Angry Inuk brings viewers behind the scenes to show seal hunting as an integral aspect of Inuit culture in which all parts of the animal are used. Seal meat feeds entire communities while the pelts, when they can be sold — and despite their long-ago plummeted prices — provide money for gas and other necessities.
Inuk lawyer, sealskin clothing designer and activist Aaju Peter is one of Arnaquq-Baril’s main subjects, and was originally going to be her film’s lone central figure until the director found herself becoming increasingly involved in the cause.
“This film really turned me into an activist,” she said. “It politicized me and made me understand the dynamics more. I was going to document (Peter’s) life’s work, in the past and on a continuing basis; then at some point I became part of the team advocating on the issue. To maintain my integrity, I had to be honest that I was part of the activism and step in front of the camera. It wasn’t an easy choice.”
Putting the director on-screen is tricky to pull off in documentary, and is often frowned upon as it can make the handling of the topic appear less objective. Add to that the controversial subject matter, and you have a film that could go either way with audiences.
“I’m not a nervous public speaker,” Arnaquq-Baril said, “but I was terrified for the first screening in Toronto (at Hot Docs). I had no idea how people would react. I was scared people wouldn’t get it.
“The screening was packed, it was completely sold out, in this huge theatre. When the audience jumped to its feet and roared, I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘I never imagined that I would look at crowds of hundreds of people in the south, thousands of kilometres from my home in the north, and be understood.’
“And I sobbed.”
A restaurant on Vancouver's famed Granville Island is serving up a side of controversy with its three-course menu for this year’s Dine Out Vancouver Festival.
Edible Canada is including Newfoundland seal as an option for diners for two weeks beginning on January 20.
The East Coast seal hunt has long been controversial in Canada with animal rights activists calling it cruel and inhumane while hunters say it is not only traditional but necessary to protect fish stocks.
For Eric Pateman, president at Edible Canada and the man who came up with the seal dish, serving the marine mammal provides an opportunity to showcase an ingredient not a lot of people outside of Atlantic Canada have tried.
“Edible Canada is known as the place to try the best ingredients from coast to coast and this product is historically relevant,” said Pateman. “Especially with Canada’s 150th birthday being this year.”
But Pateman also knows you can’t simply add an ingredient like seal to a Vancouver menu without inviting all kinds of controversy.
“We really don’t need to kill more animals just to satisfy the appetite of trendy foodies who are looking for another novelty food,” said Peter Fricker of the Vancouver Humane Society in response to the restaurant’s claim that seal is sustainably-harvested seafood.
“It may be a sustainable food but it’s certainly not a humane food,” added Fricker. “The East Coast seal hunt is known around the world as an example of extreme animal cruelty.”
The dish Pateman came up with is seal in a ragu sauce over pappardelle pasta. It will be available as the main course with a $3 surcharge on a $30 set menu.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there around the seal hunt and there’s also a great opportunity to educate people as well,” said Pateman. “I pride myself on understanding where my proteins and my meats come from whether it be beef, lamb, pork or anything else and I don’t think seal’s any different.”
Outside the restaurant, opinion was mixed with some diners saying they would avoid the dish.
“It’s all meat but I guess some things are more iffy because you’re not supposed to hunt seals in lots of places,” said Audrey Popa.
Other more adventurous eaters said they would probably order it.
“I’m not like a huge activist so I’d probably give it a shot,” said Siobhin Carrick.
Either way, the controversy is drumming up a lot of attention for the restaurant.
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