farley mowat: sealers are not fishermen, they are butchers

I wasn't going to post about the seal slaughter this year. I usually do. In fact, I think an anti-seal-slaughter post was the first criticism of Canada I ever put in this blog - and the only criticism I felt comfortable expressing for at least another year.

I was avoiding the topic this year because I'm sick of the usual, tired arguments.

I eat meat, so I am not entitled to protest the slaughter of animals for fur. Answer: All killing is not the same. Killing for sustenance can be distinguished from killing for commerce and fashion. One needn't be morally pure to protest something one finds immoral. If that were necessary, no one could ever protest anything.

It's a tradition. Answer: So was slavery. So was apartheid. So was women having no legal rights. So is child labour in many parts of the world. Societies change. The fact that a practice was once considered acceptable is not ample justification for its continuance.

The anti-sealing activists are breaking the law. Answer: That's what it takes to change immoral or unethical laws.

I'm tired of the having the same old arguments with the same anonymous posters. So this year, I thought I wouldn't bother.

Until I read this op-ed by Farley Mowat, the man for whom the impounded ship is named. I believe you need Globe & Mail access to read it, so I will reprint the whole thing here.
I have great admiration for Paul Watson and what he has done with his life.

In some ways, I could say our lives have been parallel - both of us more at home with the non-human animals of this world; both of us pretty protective of them, because we have seen how abominably the human species treats other species.

And while I gravitated from my time with the Inuit to care about wolves and whales and became a writer, he moved from whales to reef fishes and on to tuna, and remained always an activist.

When it comes to seals, it was Paul Watson who turned me around.

I met him more than 25 years ago in the Magdalen Islands during one of his early anti-sealing expeditions. I admire fishermen - they're men of adversity who care for nature, and it cares for them - and I thought I'd admire sealers too. So I went out on Watson's boat that year as a neutral observer of the seal hunt.

I was appalled. These sealers weren't like fishermen, they were like butchers. A real fisherman takes what he needs to survive; these people were taking a good deal more. Their sole objective was money.

And they didn't much care if the seals were killed or not. They'd hit them over the head, cut off their flippers and skin them alive. The authorities say this is a canard, that it doesn't happen that way. But it does; it's the absolute truth.

The experience turned me around completely: My sympathy went from the sealers to the seals.

And it brought me closer to Paul Watson. We've kept in touch ever since.

I watched him expand his defence of "the others" until it took in the whole living entity that cloaks the Earth. When I wrote Sea of Slaughter, I was impelled by his work. I'm dedicating my current book, Otherwise, to him.

But what I try to do with words, he does with action. And he's more successful. People can read and ignore my words, they can't ignore him.

In 1998, we went out together on his ship, the Sea Shepherd, to try to stop the seal hunt. We couldn't get near it; we were shadowed every step of the way by the Department of Fisheries' private navy, the Coast Guard.

After the experience, he asked if I would like to have the name of his flagship changed to mine. "You're damn right I would," I said. And it's been the Farley Mowat ever since.

That's made me, vicariously, a participant in the fight to save life in the oceans.

Neither I nor Paul Watson have any problem with those who hunt seals for subsistence, and nothing but admiration for the traditional life of those who live by the sea.

But those who conduct the seal hunt have grown rich by employing men who make a few hundred extra dollars while they buy the fur and flippers and become wealthy from the profit.

It is ruthless exploitation of men as well as nature - the traditional way of life manipulated by a few.

I admit I'm confused by the government's action. I see no financial reason for its persistent defence of this seal hunt. The cost of sending out the Coast Guard, of dispatching delegations to conferences around the world, must be three times the actual returns from the hunt. So what's the point?

Is it just because this way of life has become ingrained and tradition demands that it continue? Well, that's what they used say about bull fighting in Spain, until authorities were forced to change their minds.

Is it because politicians in Ottawa think it garners votes in Atlantic Canada?

Well, I lived in Newfoundland for seven years and still keep in close touch, and it's my experience that more than half the people in the province would like to see the seal hunt ended. They don't like the repercussions, the idea that they are viewed around the world as seal killers.

But most are too afraid to speak out. Loyola Hearn and Danny Williams, these bulls of the balsam swamp, as I call them, frighten them into silence. But it's a lie that most of the people support the hunt.

The authorities say the Farley Mowat endangered the lives of sealers by coming too close to their boats for safety. But even their own pictures show this not to be true. And I know Paul Watson. In all his years, no one has been killed or hurt in any of his operations. If I thought for a moment he'd risk human lives in defence of the creatures of the sea I'd dissociate myself from him. No, the only danger comes from the government that refuses even to enforce safety regulations on the sealers and their boats.

I can assure Canadians that the Farley Mowat did not violate any Canadian laws, and did not even cross into Canadian waters. The people on board knew that Mr. Hearn's navy was waiting to board them if they did. They stayed outside the 12-mile limit, but that didn't stop Mr. Hearn. And I think I know why.

They boarded the ship and forced it to port just to keep it out of the way until the hunt is over. People will find that out in due course. They'll see the electronic positioning records, which the government has seized, and realize it was an error. But by then it will be too late, and another couple hundred thousand seals will be dead and skinned.

The act being played out in the Cabot Strait would be expected if it came from a third-rate dictatorial country, but not from a democracy like Canada.

I'm ashamed of this behaviour.

Here are some letters in response. Just the good ones.
Is it possible for the crew of the Farley Mowat to get a fair trial here, now that Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn has already acted as judge and jury, and publicly called them "a bunch of money-sucking manipulators" (The Seizure Of The Farley Mowat - editorial, April 14)? What a pathetic, unprofessional statement. How annoying that I have to pay for this "trial" and the circus that is the seal kill.
Sharon Stephenson, Langley, BC

I just mailed the cheque I normally would have donated to the Conservative Party to Paul Watson from the Sea Shepherd society. The Conservatives can expect no more support from this home unless they address the slaughter off the East Coast.
Eric Johnson, Grimsby, ON

Seeing my tax dollars hard at work arresting seal protesters makes me ashamed to call myself Canadian. Our government just doesn't get it. Why are we investing hundreds of millions of dollars across Canada to attract tourism when we're prepared to flush our international image down the toilet for $20-million in seal pelts? This cruel slaughter is disgusting, it's an economic disaster, and it's an embarrassment.
Craig Kelley, Vancouver, BC

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