On May 20, Canada will celebrate its first National Seal Products Day.
A bill designating the day received Royal Assent from the Governor General and passed into law May 16, after receiving its third reading in the House of Commons May 5.
National Seal Products Day acknowledges that the cultural significance of seal is tied to the economic well-being of sealers, according to Newfoundland MP Scott Simms, who sponsored the bill.
"This is about seal products and products that are gaining notoriety around the world," Simms told the House.
"Part of cultural references and ceremonies is the ability to partake in commerce for products, particularly with respect to fur."
Retired Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette, who introduced the bill in the Senate in 2015, chose May 20 because it coincides with European Maritime Day, which celebrates and supports Europe's maritime industry.
The day was conceived in part as a response to the EU's 2010 ban on seal products and continued through the House, despite a exemption for Inuvialuit products enacted earlier this year.
- Inuvialuit exempted from European Union seal product import ban
- EU seal product ban upheld in WTO appeal
However, not everyone agrees with the focus on seal products.
"It doesn't consider what the animal provides for Inuit people, it doesn't look at the cultural importance of the seal," Sheryl Fink told CBC.
The director of Canadian campaigns for the International Fund for Animal Welfare wrote an editorial that appeared in the Huffington Post entitled "Canada Just Passed A New National Day Celebrating Seal Slaughter."
She says her organization would like to see a greater distinction between the Southern, or Newfoundland hunt, and Inuit seal hunting in the North.
"We see two very different types of hunting, different respect for animals, different purpose of the hunt — the Northern hunt is primarily for food."
But Iqaluit resident Elisapee Flaherty says that for too many years, activists have painted all sealing in a negative light.
"That day of celebration, May 20, for seal products and seal skins is going to open up more opportunities. The recognition of it is going to be a big deal and a good thing for hunters," she said in Inuktitut.
Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, agrees.
"I think that as long as we maintain our specificity — the way that we interact with sealing — then we can have common understanding and common interests when it comes to lobbying."
Obed says he's pleased to see Canada supporting the sealing industry and happy to be attending several events in Ottawa this week, promoting sealskin fashion and tasting seal meat. He says that Inuit play an important role in promoting seal as a sustainable product.
"We participate in the sealing economy, from all our communities, our hunters, our seamstresses, everyone who eats seal meat. Everyone is a part of that sealing economy."