Canadian, Inuit and international trade leaders alike are lashing out at a European Union court decision to uphold a ban, first enacted three years ago, on seal products.
The ban has decimated the seal industry, endangered indigenous ways of life and put a crimp in tradition as far away from the Canadian seal trade as the Scottish Highlands.
On April 25 the General Court of the European Union rejected the appeal of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national Inuit organization of Canada, as well as sealing organizations and other groups that had come together to contest the ban enacted in 2010. The Inuit have an exemption allowing them to trade in seal products, but they appealed the initial ruling on the grounds that seal prices have dropped drastically because of the wider ban and that the exemption thus does not protect the Inuit as it is supposed to.
“We Inuit have been telling the EU all along that the ban is not good for us,” ITK President Terry Audla in a statement. “But their colonial, holier-than-thou attitude toward us and their self-serving interests have not resulted in a fair or just process for Inuit.”
The Inuit have hunted seals for thousands of years, using various parts of the animals for food, clothing and other life-sustaining items. As such it is a key part of their way of life and their very survival. Elsewhere, seal pelts are also used to make sporran, a pouch that is part of traditional Highland dress in Scotland, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
Canada had led the challenge, and on April 26, two government ministers also came out swinging.
"Our government's position has been clear: The ban on seal products adopted in the European Union was a political decision that has no basis in fact or science," said Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield in a joint statement. “We firmly believe this ban is contrary to the EU's World Trade Organization obligations and will continue to defend Canadian interests in this regard on the world stage. The Canadian government will continue to send a strong message that we are serious about defending our legitimate commercial seal harvest."
Aglukkaq is also the Member of Parliament representing Nunavut, whose population is largely Inuit. The Nunavut government also came out against the ban.
“The Government of Nunavut is disappointed with this ruling,” said James Arreak, the territory’s environment minister, in a statement. “The EU ban was enacted purely for political reasons. We believe all trade bans must have a sound scientific basis and had hoped that the European court would support this justified challenge.”
Further, he said, since the ban was initially adopted in 2009, the international market has collapsed as prices plummeted.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is set to conduct hearings on the seal trade next week, but the panel cannot overturn the EU ban, the Canadian Press reported. The WTO is expected to release an opinion later this year.