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Seal Slaughter End In Sight? Key Canadian MP Cracks the Ice

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The annual bloodbath that comprises the largest kill off of marine mammals in the world, the Newfoundland seal "hunt" (a misnomer if ever there was one), is scheduled to start within weeks.

For years, world leaders including Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, scores of international stars (going back to that famous photo of Brigitte Bardot cuddling a seal on the ice), and multitudes of people whose blood runs cold seeing a cudgel raised to a baby seal have implored the Canadian government to end the annual slaughter. One bumper sticker read, "If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention," but everyone was outraged -- except the Canadian government, which has stalwartly defended the seal slaughter and gone to great lengths to find a market for the pelts that no one wants and that many countries, including the U.S., will not accept within their borders. Now even Canadian lawmakers might finally be listening.

While Member of Parliament Ryan Cleary says that it's the "official" position of the New Democratic Party to support the seal hunt, he is now questioning whether it should continue. "Part of our history is also whaling, for example, and the day came when the whaling industry stopped," he said a few days ago. "Now, is that day coming with the seal hunt? It just may be."

Cleary points out that Canada is drawing massive worldwide criticism for an industry that only earned $1 million last year, almost the same amount that must have to be paid to throw the rotting pelts in warehouses, given the fact that almost anyone you ask would rather be seen dead than in a sealskin anything. Thanks to videotapes that have increased awareness of how sealers hook baby harp seals in the eye, cheek or mouth so as not to damage the fur and drag them across the ice alive or beat them to death with a club that has a spike or sharp nail on one side of it, the markets for seal products are slamming shut faster than Stephen Harper's door on a PETA protester. Just last month, Russia, Canada's largest seal-pelt market, followed the lead of the U.S. and European Union and banned the import of sealskins. "We know that the world appetite is not there for seal meat, but the world appetite for seal products -- I don't know if it's there," said Cleary. "And you know what? I may be shot for talking about this, and for saying this, but it's a question we all have to ask."

And while Cleary is coming under heavy fire from greedy sealers and certain politicians who are beholden to them, Canadian residents who oppose the cruel slaughter (and they are the majority) are dancing a jig. Responding to the controversy in a news release, Cleary said, "We cannot hide behind the debate and pretend that the market for seals is not in trouble. Facing this reality head on is the only way to address this situation."

Every February, as the seal slaughter draws near, I think of these words of the Chinese poet Su Tung-P'o: "Life passes like a spring dream without a trace." Soon, I hope, the seal mothers will no longer have to endure what must be a spring nightmare, seeing their pups' lives battered into oblivion, the "trace" being the line of blood on the ice that leads from bludgeon site to commercial vessel. That will change if more forward-thinking MPs find the courage to join Cleary and suggest to their colleagues that there are more ethical and savory ways to make a living.

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