Canada against EU entry to Arctic Council because of seal trade ban

Canada opposes the European Union's request to join the Arctic Council because of the EU's proposed ban on imported seal products that will go to a vote next week.

Canada opposes the European Union's request to join the Arctic Council because of the EU's proposed ban on imported seal products that will go to a vote next week.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, meeting with other Arctic Council nations this week in Tromso, Norway, says he is gaining the support of other member countries.

"Canada doesn't feel that the European Union, at this stage, has the required sensitivity to be able to acknowledge the Arctic Council, as well as its membership, and so therefore I'm opposed to it," Cannon told CBC News on Tuesday from Tromso.

The EU is seeking permanent observer status within the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum of northern countries such as Canada, the United States and Russia, as well as Arctic indigenous groups.

The European Parliament is set to vote May 5 on whether to ban the trade of seal products from member countries.

The proposed ban includes a limited exemption on seal products coming from Inuit, but only to be traded for cultural, educational or ceremonial purposes.

Needs of northerners

Earlier this month, Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak asked the federal government to oppose the EU's application, arguing a ban would have a negative impact on the livelihoods of Canadian Inuit sealers.

"As long as this European Union doesn't have the required sensitivity to the needs of northerners, I see no reason why they should be … a permanent observer on the Arctic Council," Cannon said.

Cannon said the debate over the EU's bid to join the Arctic Council will be set aside until further discussions can take place.

Circumpolar Inuit delegates at the Tromso meeting are calling on the Arctic Council to have serious discussions about who can be observers before allowing the EU or any other countries or groups on board.

Patricia Cochran of the Inuit Circumpolar Council said her group "had not taken a direct stance on that particular application, but it was one of many that we thought should be set aside until this dialogue happens."

The EU has shown a growing interest in the Arctic over the past few years, contributing to scientific research and other studies in the North. The EU is also expected to become increasingly involved in shipping as the Arctic sea ice shrinks.

Nunavut launches last-ditch campaign

The European Parliament originally planned to hold the seal ban vote earlier this month, but delays in voting have given the Canadian and Nunavut governments more time to lobby against the proposal.

Both governments are visiting European countries, sending letters and putting advertisements in parliamentary magazines.

But Simon Awa, Nunavut's deputy environment minister, said lobbying European countries has been a challenge that may not pay off.

"I am assuming it will be a negative vote for Canada and sealing countries," Awa told CBC News.

Of the 27 countries in the EU, Awa said six oppose a seal product ban, two have their own bans in place and six more countries are working towards banning seal products. That leaves 13 countries left to lobby, he said.

"The European parliamentarians are under tremendous pressure, as I said, from animal rights activists," he said.

The Nunavut government is also funding a last-minute lobby effort by Iqaluit resident Aaju Peter, who is taking five other Nunavummiut to the European Parliament's base in Strasbourg, Germany, on Friday.

"I thought, well, we'll go and speak with them before they make a final decision and tell them what impact it would have on us as Inuit," Peter said.

Peter said her delegation will leave Friday, in time to meet with parliamentarians in Strasbourg. The group will stay in Europe for the vote, she added.

Should the seal trade ban pass, Awa said Nunavut will have to develop new strategies to keep the territory's sealing industry alive. That may include finding new shipping routes and markets, he said.