A couple of weeks ago, a few Canadian sealers got so fed up with hunt protestors and journalists during the annual harp seal hunt that they were driven to throwing seal guts and in several cases to ramming dinghies.
Well, who can blame them? There’s nothing more annoying than a bunch of observers and reporters hanging around snooping when you’re trying to get on with your job.
In one Quebec town, a group of sealers and their supporters blockaded the hotel where hunt protestors were staying, imprisoning them inside and destroying several rented cars.
Somebody rammed a van carrying protestors. In another community protestors left town after a gang of locals let it be known that fueling up their helicopter might be detrimental to their health.
Seal hunters face harsh challenges when they venture out on the sea ice and, no doubt, it adds immeasurably to the task to have inflatable boats full of orange-suited protestors roaring about the place.
On the plus side, its one of the few professions in Canada where criminal acts ranging from throwing offal — there’s got to be something in the code about that — to out-and-out piracy are acceptable workplace behaviours.
Now federal fisheries officials are said to be “reviewing the rules” about the hunt, not with an eye to policing the seal hunters, but with the apparent intention of keeping the observers farther away from the scene.
If this were a simple matter of adding a few metres to the 30-metre zone-of-comfort the law already awards the hunt, to move the protestors out of gut-flinging range, no doubt it would meet with universal approval, but there are suggestions that the feds may ban the protest altogether.
“We’ll have to develop plans around the protest situation and see where we go with it next year,” Fisheries spokesperson Larry Yetman told Canadian Press.
Thirty metres, for those not yet adapted to the metric system, is the length of three good-sized houses.
I have to admit I wouldn’t want Sir Paul McCartney or Brigitte Bardot flapping around me when I’m trying to work, but if I could put three house-lengths of ocean between me and them and have a couple of noisy boat motors going so I didn’t have to listen to McCartney’s nasal whine or Bardot’s fascist claptrap, I believe I could restrain myself from launching mammal guts at them, or from ramming their boats, at least in front of the cameras.
The seal hunt is a perfectly legal harvest, and the sealers have every right to pursue it, but they seem to have forgotten that the same freedom extends to the protestors.
It would be a great convenience to get rid of the bad publicity simply by banning all filming on the ice altogether for the duration of the hunt, but that’s not the way democracy’s supposed to work.
If the government of Canada can simply ban protestors from recording the seal hunt, next it will ban the reporters’ scrum from Parliament Hill — oh wait, it already did that.
If you’ve ever seen anything die in winter you’ll know that there’s nothing like the effect of blood on snow. It looks terrible. Even a small amount of blood can look like an illustration for the term, “horrible carnage.”
It looks particularly bad if you happen to be an urban European with no experience of the origins of meat and leather, and 30 years ago it was enough to kill the hunt.
But present-day Russia and China, where the vast majority of Canadian seal pelts are sold, are a world away from Europe in the ‘70s, and the anti-sealing campaigners won’t find it as easy to shut down the industry this time.
There’s a good chance the current protest will never amount to much more than a nuisance. In the meantime, they hire helicopters and boats, rent cars, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and attract pop stars.
They’re becoming an important part of the local economy.
The awful irony is that the seals are all but doomed, and the seal hunt has nothing to do with it, unless you count the bit of extra carbons the hunters and protestors each add to the madness of climate change.
The ice cap is melting at a rate of eight per cent a year. The seals breed on the ice. Unless we humans change our behaviours radically, by 2030 there will be no ice, no seal hunt, no seals.
Fur prices and hunting conditions vary from year to year. This year, seal hunters are expected to average over $100,000 in a few weeks.
It’s a pretty good paycheque and it’s no surprise that people are protective about one of the few decent sources of income left on Canada’s East Coast.
But for that kind of money, they ought to be able to put up with a few workplace annoyances, even if that includes McCartney and Bardot.
Freedom of expression can be troublesome, but it’s more important than good taste.