EU seal ban challenge rejected in court

The European General Court rejects a bid by Canada's largest Inuit organization to challenge the EU's year-old trade ban on seal products.
An EU court has dismissed a challenge of the European Union's import ban on seal products, though several other legal cases are still ongoing. ((Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press))

A court ruling in Europe has struck another blow to Canada's embattled seal products industry.

The European General Court, in a judgment released Wednesday, rejected a bid by Canada's largest Inuit organization to challenge the European Union's year-old trade ban on seal products.

The Luxembourg-based court dismissed the group's case, saying the challenge from the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, several seal hunters and industry organizations was inadmissible.

Even though the EU ban exempts the trade in seal products from aboriginal groups, the Inuit say their markets will plummet along with the rest of the commercial industry unless the ban is overturned.

Mary Simon, head of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents Canada's 53,000 Inuit, said her organization has yet to decide what exactly what it will do in the wake of the decision.

"Inuit are disappointed that the EU did not see fit to rule on the merits of this case, and have dismissed it on technical grounds as inadmissible without a hearing," Simon said in a written statement.

'Horrible fate'

Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Canadian wing of Humane Society International, said the ruling "puts another nail in the coffin" of the commercial sealing industry.

"It's a very important ruling," she said in an interview from Strasbourg, France. "The ban remains in place and seals in Canada and around the world are going to be spared a horrible fate for many years to come."

Aldworth said her group would like to see the industry mothballed and all seal hunters offered compensation.

Animal welfare groups have long argued that the annual hunt off the East Coast has left a stain on Canada's international reputation because they believe the slaughter is inhumane.

"It's time that the Canadian government recognize that the writing is on the wall," said Aldworth, a Newfoundlander who has observed the hunt for more than a decade. "The commercial seal hunt is a dying industry."

In June, as the hunt drew to a close for another year, federal officials confirmed this season was one of the worst since the early 1990s, when the industry struggled to recover from a European ban on white pelts from young harp seals.

The total number of harp seals killed in the 2011 commercial slaughter was about 38,000 — less than 10 per cent of the total allowable catch.

The EU ban was blamed for pushing down pelt prices to between $20 and $30, barely enough for seal hunters to cover the cost of fuel and insurance for their boats.

The Canadian government is moving ahead with its own bid to challenge the ban through the World Trade Organization.

The executive director of the Fur Institute of Canada, Rob Cahill, says the fight to save the industry will continue on another front as well. Another ongoing court challenge is aimed at the EU regulations that implement the ban.