Ottawa prepares WTO challenge on Belgian seal ban

The federal government is taking a Belgian ban on seal products to the World Trade Organization.

The federal government is taking a Belgian ban on seal products to the World Trade Organization, with the fisheries minister saying Canada won't be "a wuss" against European boycotts.

'Canada for a number of years has been known as a wuss at the international level,' Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn says. ((CBC))
Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn said while other countries have instituted bans because of the harp seal hunt on Canada's East Coast, Belgium has been targeted because it was the first country to do so since the Conservatives took power.

As well, Hearn said, Belgium holds an influential position in the European Union.

"Other countries are talking about it, and of course a number of our people involved in the industry have asked that we take action," said Hearn, who admitted that Canada has been too docile in the past in dealing with other nations on fisheries management issues.

"Canada, for a number of years, has been known as a wuss at the international level.…We are turning that around," he said. "If you want to play those games, then you'll have to fight it in the World Trade Organization circles."

Hearn blamed pressure from "animal rights groups, in particular" for leading individual countries.

Canada's seal hunt has been a perennial target by animal welfare groups for more than three decades. ((CBC))
The EU itself has not banned the hunt, although earlier this year agreed to study the humaneness of the hunt.

The major markets for seal pelts are in China and Scandinavia.

Formally, Canada's next step is called seeking formal consultations through the WTO. Hearn warned the process of challenging the ban, though, could turn out to be complicated.

"If we can get a settlement at the early stages, it won't take long. If it goes to the full dispute settlement mechanisms, it will be lengthy and it will probably be costly," Hearn said.

The Canadian government supports the seal hunt, despite waves of protests from international organizations.

Hearn said inaccurate information about the hunt is pervasive.

Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution that called for an end to the hunt.

"With stunning barbarism Canadian hunters swoop in with heavy clubs and stun guns to immobilize these little innocent creatures," California Democrat Tom Lantos— who presented the resolution— said on Monday night.

"They are then skinned alive simply so that their soft, white fur can adorn winter coats."

Canada banned the hunt of whitecoats in the 1980s, following a royal commission on seals and sealing. Seals must lose their white fur before they can be killed, and most seals are shot to death with rifles. Hakapiks,orhooked clubs, are still used in a small but well-publicized hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.