Nunavut, Inuit leaders vow to keep lobbying against EU seal ban

Inuit leaders in Canada, as well as the Nunavut government, say they will continue to lobby against the European Union's import ban on seal products.

Inuit leaders in Canada, as well as the Nunavut government, say they will continue to lobby against the European Union's import ban on seal products, which they argue would harm the livelihoods of Inuit sealers.

On Tuesday, the European Parliament passed a motion that bans the import of products made from seals, including clothing, food and Omega-3 capsules made from seal oil, into member countries of the European Union.

Governments in the EU's member countries will likely endorse the ban over the next few months. The ban is expected to come into effect before the start of next year's sealing season.

'Very devastating day'

Inuit leaders in Canada are counting on the federal government to challenge the ban before the World Trade Organization.

"I think this is a very devastating day for us," Mary Simon, president of the Canadian Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told CBC News on Tuesday.

"I think this is a situation where perhaps if we as a country had taken action right from the beginning, that this wouldn't have happened."

Nunavut sealers harvest about 35,000 seals per year, with about 10,000 to 11,000 sold on the open market. Seals also provide an essential food source for Inuit in Nunavut communities, said Daniel Shewchuk, the territory's environment minister.

"It's a big part of our economy, and it's going to provide less economic value to our hunters in Nunavut that depend on this," Shewchuk said of the EU's seal ban.

The ban offers limited exemptions to Inuit from Canada, Greenland and elsewhere to continue their traditional hunts. It bars them from large-scale trading of their pelts and other seal products in Europe.

'Distorted view' of exemptions

Iqaluit resident Aaju Peter, who met with several European Parliament members before Tuesday's vote, said politicians did not fully understand what the exemptions would mean for Inuit.

"They kept citing that Inuit had accepted the exemption, and that it was going to be good for us," Peter said from Strasbourg, Germany, where she and three other Nunavummiut watched the vote take place.

"It was quite distorted. I saw that they didn't have all the facts, they were not informed about our concerns."

Shewchuk said Canada and Nunavut have to counter the influential campaigns that animal-rights activists have had in Europe, which he said may spread around the world.

"Europe has supported their cause, so I think that there's an obligation on all of us to do that, to get to the whole world," Shewchuk said.

"Education is a key about this whole thing is what it really is, to make people understand that we humanely harvest seals and how important seals are to our cultural and economy."

Shewchuk said the Nunavut government will fully support Canada's challenge of the EU seal ban to the WTO.