'A very difficult journey'

Many EU MEPs ambivalent on seal ban decision


When the European Parliament approved a measure on May 5 to ban seal products from entering member states, the Canadian government and Inuit groups vowed to resist the decision.

But debate records from the European Parliament show even some supporters of the move had second thoughts and others were flat-out opposed.

Diana Wallis, the centrist Liberal Democrat from England who is the European Parliament's rapporteur on the file, called negotiations on the motion "a very difficult journey." Wallis said she struggled with balancing her constituents' view of the seal hunt with the impact such a ban will have on Arctic people.

"The Arctic is not some sort of theme park or museum: it is a living, breathing community with its own modern economy and at the heart of that is what is taken from the seas," Wallis said. "I hope that those communities will be able to continue to exist in the way that they always have."

And centre-right Irish MEP Avril Doyle worried whether the ban would exempt the use of seal products in patients suffering from heart ailments. Seal heart tissue is sometimes used in transplants. It wasn't clear whether such use was exempt.

The vote passed overwhelmingly, 550-49, to the delight of left-wing and green MEPs. Caroline Lucas, an English MEP who leads the green bloc, called the vote "a victory for all of us who have refused to take ‘no' for an answer" and referred to the seal hunt as "one of the most vile examples of animal cruelty."

But one MEP opposed to the measure suggested it amounts to meddling in another country's affairs.

"This proposal destroys people's lives and their communities in remote regions," said Peter Stasny, a centre-right Slovakian Member of the European Parliament, calling the vote "madness and a complete failure of our values."

"It destroys business opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic and seriously harms good relations with important trade and strategic global partners. Furthermore this proposal violates [World Trade Organization] rules."

That echoes what Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami has said, citing documents it obtained indicating the EU's own lawyers warned the ban could be challenged at the WTO.

Within hours of the vote, the federal government issued a news release condemning the results. Fisheries minister Gail Shea warned her "European counterparts about the dangers of pursuing politically motivated bans on other countries' traditional industries."

International Trade minister Stockwell Day pledged Canada would challenge the ban at the WTO if exemptions weren't made for seal harvests that follow "humane and sustainable" practices.

ITK president Mary Simon said Ottawa hadn't done enough to fight the ban and others like it passed by individual EU states. She called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to condemn the vote.

"We need the government to be extremely active if anything is going to change," she said.

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