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ITK: Inuit Leaders United in Opposition to EU Seal Ban as WTO Appeal Hearing Begins in Geneva

Ottawa, Ontario – Terry Audla, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), and Duane Smith, President of Inuit Circumpolar Council – Canada (ICC Canada) jointly reaffirmed their opposition to the European Union’s 2009 import ban on seal products today as the World Trade Organization (WTO) begins hearing an appeal by Canada and Norway to a WTO decision to uphold the ban.

The WTO dispute settlement panel acknowledged in November 2013 that the EU ban’s so-called Inuit exemption discriminates against Canadian Inuit. But Canadian Inuit have, from the start, taken the position that the ban must be annulled, and that any legislative measure affecting the economic and social rights of Inuit must be designed in consultation with Inuit.

“The EU continues to use its political and so-called moral weight to abolish the seal product trade to the detriment of Canadian communities that depend on the harvest and use of seal, including trade in seal products,” said Audla. “As far as we are concerned, there is nothing morally wrong with sustainably harvesting an abundant species for purposes that serve the essential needs of our communities in terms of food, clothing and livelihoods.

“Inuit should be able to engage in free and open trade that is unrestricted by cultural and moral bias. We are citizens of the 21st century and participants in a modern economy, and the EU’s Orwellian trade obstruction is a relic of a distant era when lawmakers unilaterally determined the tastes of a nation.”

The ban has destroyed the market for Canadian seal products – its real objective. This renders the exemption for seal products from Inuit hunts an unworkable option for Canadian Inuit because it fails to overcome the negative effects of the ban on Inuit hunters and communities.

“In principle, such a comprehensive ban is destructive because it paints a black mark and stigmatizes products and the people who harvest and trade these products,” Audla continued. “We are therefore not immune from this bias, and we are not immune from the negative impacts this has on our communities, on our culture, and on our wellbeing.”

“The ban itself is unethical, legally defective and deeply hypocritical,” said Smith. “The process of developing the legislation and the effect of the ban undermines legal and policy frameworks, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the international community has repeatedly endorsed.”

ITK together with students of the Ottawa-based Nunavut Sivuniksavut Training Program will host a peaceful demonstration and sealskin fashion show on Parliament Hill at noon on Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in support of Inuit culture, Inuit livelihoods and Inuit sustainable use and trade of seal products.

“For 40 years now we have seen the spread of false information and propaganda by animal rights groups to gain political and public support in Europe and end hunting and trade of seal,” added Audla. “The whitecoat seal pup, as one example, is still being used in propaganda campaigns to this day, although it has not been a part of any product trade for the past 30 years.”

“The EU went from banning the seal pups of two subspecies of seal in 1983 to outright banning all seal species in 2009, despite the growing and abundant population of seals in the Arctic and North Atlantic,” continued Smith. “On a biological, management and trade level, this sledgehammer approach is completely unwarranted and it appears that such an outright ban has been created only to punish small communities for their way of life.”

ITK and ICC Canada are not participants in the hearing, which will be heard March 17-19 in Geneva, but are looking to the Government of Canada’s appeal to effectively apply more pressure against the EU and the ban.

ITK and other plaintiffs have appealed the April 2013 dismissal by the EU General Court of an application for annulment of the ban. No date has been set for a hearing on this appeal.

Seal populations are abundant, and seal harvests are sustainable in regions where seals are harvested. Animal products are used and traded throughout the world on a regular basis. Seals are no different. The seal harvest provides important economic value to individuals and communities, as well as sources of income much needed to help sustain livelihoods and ways of life.

For more information:

Patricia D’Souza, Senior Communications Officer
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
; 613-292-4482