Thank you, Mr. Chair. I was expecting to wrap this up, but I'm willing to start.
I would like to thank you and the clerk for inviting me, and the members for accepting my participation. Of course, this is a great day for me. I've been involved with this matter for quite a long time. I think we did everything, with both Conservative and Liberal governments, to fight to defend what is in fact a very legitimate activity of our people on the coast. Thank you for inviting me. I'm happy to sit with the other witnesses.
For all of you, as to how it started that somebody from Quebec, a senator, would fight for the seal hunters, I received a letter from an American woman—in fact, all the senators received that letter—who said that she would not holiday in Canada because we had seal hunting. To punish us, she was refusing to come to Canada. I said to her that if she had some spare time for a great cause, I would urge her on her side of the frontier to fight for the black people and to fight on other great causes, such as the death penalty, the gun question, and so on.
I replied to her, and Senator Prud'homme, who died recently, phoned me and said, “Do you mind if I give your letter to the media?” I told him that since I had sent it to 100 senators, it wasn't very confidential, so yes, he could do it. That letter made the front page of the papers, of course, since I was defending this activity.
Maybe you don't know, but in Quebec we have a very soft spot for the Magdalen Islands. For us, it's almost a little corner of paradise. If you ever go to those islands, you will see that you find yourself not in heaven, but in a place close to paradise. I've been there very often, and the population there is very warm.
Like any small island, they have fewer activities, so seal hunting is an essential component for them to make a living, after lobster fishing. They start their season with the seal hunt.
With that fact, I then realized that of course this was very important also on the coast of Newfoundland. I studied the matter. I took that very seriously. With an Inuit, I had my own experience of seal harvesting on Frobisher Bay—40 kilometres on the ice in -40°C temperatures. I can tell you that I really did what I would say was a very thorough study of the question, and of course I had meetings with the local populations up north. I had the feeling that, like in the Magdalen Islands, the seal hunt, wherever it was taking place, was, I would say, not only an important but a vital part of their activities during the year in making a living. For me, it was not about somebody who has a sport such as deer hunting There are not many people who live off deer hunting in this country, but for seal hunting I can tell you that it's an activity that is essential for the people on the coast and up north.
Then I was trying to find a way.... Then, of course, I had a reply from the animal rights groups, which in fact were using pictures that we had when I was a member of Parliament at the beginning of the 1980s, when we had a special commission studying this and of course banning the hunting of the white baby seals. They were using these pictures to raise millions of dollars. For one of the groups, the president of that organization was getting paid half a million dollars a year in salary. That's just to tell you how much money these people were making out of this question. After discussion with Premier Williams at that time, I thought that we could challenge the use of pictures that were 40 years old.
We were told by the lawyers in New York that there was no way we would win a case like that in the United States. It was not worth spending millions of dollars, because this would have cost millions of dollars. With sadness, we had to stop this activity.
Then these animal rights groups started to move around and go to Europe, Mexico, to Russia, to China with their campaign, trying to get all the other countries to side with the Americans in banning the seal hunting. As far as I'm concerned, the weight was very strong on their side in terms of publicity and advertising. Of course, they were using advertisements but they were using also some very well-known people, like Paul McCartney, Brigitte Bardot, who wrote to me a very bad, very hateful letter. That person, of course, never took care of her children, but she took care of the donkey that was living next to her. I was not very impressed with her intervention.
After that, the case was submitted to the World Trade Organization. We went there. The government went there twice, and at the end of the day, the World Trade Organization decided the ruling that nobody ever expected. It was almost a decision based on morality or ethics, saying that it was not ethical. As if it is ethical in Germany, where the hunting, mostly of deer, is an over $1-billion industry. People in Europe are big hunters in the various regions and so on. That's moral. But in terms of the seal hunting, from which people make a living, it was declared not to be an activity that could be done legally. Of course, they continued the ban of the selling of these products.
The idea of coming to ask for a day for the seal hunters is to at least give ourselves the possibility to recognize them, recognize them publicly with everybody in Canada. Luckily, Canadians are supporting this cause.
Since they have in Europe, on May 20, a day that they celebrate the sea and all of the products related to the sea, I thought, why don't we have our day? At the beginning, in my first draft, I had the words “sea and seal hunting”, but there was an amendment to my bill, which I did not oppose, because for me seal hunting was the main driving force of that bill. I just decided to support it.
I also thank my fellow colleague senators who approved the bill, and I thank Mr. Simms for becoming the sponsor on the House side. I hope that the House side will have the same, I would say, maturity as the Senate when it comes to studying a bill like this one to celebrate this small population who have a very tough life. It's a very tough activity. Not many of us would do that for a living. It's to salute their courage, and especially for the northern ones. Even though I know that Newfoundland and Magdalen Islands sealers are working hard, we have to remember that those who live in the north are in fact the guardians of the territory of Canada in making sure that we keep our presence there. This is an activity that is sustaining their presence in the north.
I urge you to support the bill. I am extremely happy to be at this point with the bill, and you can be sure that I will come to celebrate on May 20 or around that date, so that all Canadians can be proud of these citizens of our country.
I spoke to you in English because there are not many people from Quebec, or others whose first language is French, here this morning. I would have spoken to you in French if there had been a few more francophones. I wanted to talk to the new members who are studying this matter.
Mr. Simms is very familiar with that, but maybe not all of you are. As far as I'm concerned, I'm very proud that this came from the Senate, and that we made it to the House. I hope you will adopt the bill.