Seal Hunt, Narwhal Tusk Ban Positions Questioned: Canadian Elections

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A seal hunter drags a harp seal back to his snowmobile during the annual hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2005. Canada, which is fighting a European Union import ban on seal products, has maintained that the annual seal hunt is conducted humanely. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)Nunavut Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq is accusing the Liberals of not supporting Canada’s commercial seal hunt, based on statements by at least two of that party’s members.

Ignatieff has expressed support for Canada’s seal hunt.

Opposition to the controversial hunt — including the European Union’s import ban on seal products — has been a contentious issue in Nunavut, where Inuit have long harvested seals for food and pelts.

Aglukkaq, who is seeking re-election in the northern riding, told CBC News on Thursday that the Conservative government has defended the seal hunt by fighting the EU trade ban, as well as by signing a trade agreement with China in January to export seal meat, oil and other products to that country.

“Prime Minister [Stephen Harper] has said we support Canadian sealers, unlike the Liberal Party,” she said.

Liberal MP, senator oppose hunt

While Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has expressed support for Canada’s seal hunt, Aglukkaq said Nunavut Liberal candidate Paul Okalik should be concerned and embarrassed that other members of his party are condemning the hunt.

Aglukkaq pointed to a letter dated March 16 by B.C. Liberal Hedy Fry, in which the longtime MP denounced the commercial seal hunt while supporting a limited traditional hunt.

Aglukkaq also noted that a Liberal senator, Mac Harb, has tried to introduce a bill calling for a ban on the commercial seal hunt. Harb’s attempt in 2009 fell apart when none of his fellow senators would support the motion.

“His party does not support the seal hunt,” Aglukkaq said, referring to Okalik and the Liberals.

“His party does not support abolishing the gun registry, which is a huge barrier to many Inuit hunters,” she added.

Ignatieff released a statement earlier in the campaign saying the Liberal Party remains “steadfast in its support for Canada’s seal hunt.”

Canada argues that its annual seal hunt is conducted humanely. The federal government is challenging the European Union’s trade ban before a World Trade Organization dispute panel.

Okalik notes narwhal tusk ban

Meanwhile, Okalik blasted the Conservatives on Wednesday for allowing the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ban the international export of narwhal tusks harvested by many Nunavut whalers.

DFO officials have said they imposed restrictions on the export of narwhal tusks from Iqaluit and many other Nunavut communities because narwhal in those areas are being overharvested.

But Inuit groups have argued that they were not consulted by the federal government before the ban was put in place.

They also weren’t consulted before a ban was imposed on the export of polar bear hides from Nunavut’s Baffin Bay region, Okalik said.

Okalik, a former premier of Nunavut, said Inuit there have been forced to defend their land-claim rights in court, citing the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s court dispute with the federal government over seismic testing in Lancaster Sound.

“Despite all their concerns, the Conservative government continued on trying to impose seismic testing along the Lancaster Sound area,” Okalik said.

Aglukkaq said she is committed to working on getting those bans lifted and dealing with other issues Nunavummiut may have.

In August, the Nunavut Court of Justice ordered Natural Resources Canada not to carry out seismic tests aimed at mapping the Lancaster Sound area for potential oil and gas resources.

Inuit from five communities in the area opposed the government’s plan to send sound blasts through the water, arguing that the sound could adversely affect whales, polar bears and other marine life and change their migration patterns.

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