Madam Speaker, once again, the seal hunt is at the forefront of our debate here in the House of Commons. I say once again, but at the same time, I would like to say how disappointed I am that we are here today to talk about a decision that was just made in Europe. Yet everyone recognizes—and even some European parliamentarians recognize—that the decision was made based on the demagoguery and misinformation that has been circulating for some 30 years.
That is why people in my riding are extremely disappointed and frustrated by what is happening. People are perhaps even beginning to wonder if they too should not boycott Europe and cancel our planned trips, boycott French wine and Spanish wine, and so on, because what is going on right now is so appalling.
These people are parliamentarians who, like us, were elected and who will soon be heading to the polls. The elections begin on June 4. In fact, that is one of the major problems. They are going into an election, and are in pre-election mode. I do not think it is the same situation as here, or that these parliamentarians need to stand up and declare whether they agree with a certain measure or not.
I have a feeling it is just an automatic reflex—as some would say—and people are therefore becoming somewhat insensitive, but above all, oblivious to the decision that was just made in Europe. It is disappointing, it is frustrating and it is appalling that a Parliament, and one that is so young, has made such a decision.
Ultimately, it is a black eye in its history. That Parliament has made a decision based on the prevailing misinformation and demagoguery, and those who want the ban have considerable financial backing. They are highly intelligent, but they are using their intelligence for the wrong cause and they are consciously using it for destructive, and not constructive purposes. People in my riding are furious and I do not blame them one bit.
Now, how should we behave towards a parliamentarian who consciously decides to vote in favour of banning and boycotting seal products based on misinformation and demagoguery?
That is exactly what is happening, and that is why I feel it is important today to look at how all this has come about. We can use a scholarly word, anthropomorphism, which, in much simpler terms, means humanizing animals. People have succeeded in humanizing seals to the point where we talk about the “baby seal” and the “mother seal”. If this goes any further we will be talking about the father, the cousins and the extended family. It is as silly as that. It is also as dangerous as that.
People have succeeded in humanizing an animal to such a degree that they have aroused sympathy. Those who have seen whitecoats will agree that they are extremely cute. They are very cute, just as calves, lambs or even chickens could be considered cute. But we must not forget that we eat these animals. This is what is happening. We have gotten to this point because of a cute image and experts in demagoguery and disinformation who have the means to sway public opinion.
Speaking of means, the 2007 financial statements of the IFAW and the Humane Society show that these international organizations each raised $100 million U.S. in donations from individuals.
They make this money available to people who earn good salaries. Rebecca Aldworth, one of the people we have to fight, says anything and is a real liar about what is happening at present. I had the opportunity to tell her to her face what I think, and I called her a liar. We are at the point where we must no longer handle these people with kid gloves. We have to agree to say things to their face convincingly, but also respectfully.
I have no problem debating someone who feels that seal hunting makes no sense or that the hunt is not good and should be discontinued. That is an intelligent sort of debate. I am willing to respect someone who tells me that they are a vegetarian who does not eat meat and that they are against the hunt on those grounds. I respect them because I sense in their attitude and in what they say that they respect me as well and that they respect tradition.
This is a tradition, especially in the Magdalen Islands, the riding and the people I represent. I expect it is the same for people in Quebec, Labrador and Newfoundland, not to mention the Inuit of the far north. The seal hunt did not start all of a sudden just a few years ago because sealskin or fur became popular. Magdalen Islanders have been hunting seal for over 300 years. It is ancestral, traditional, perhaps even genetic. People have made that very clear to me.
I had a chance to participate, but I have not yet hunted seal. Perhaps I will do so one day to show my support. The end of March symbolizes a time of renewal for these people. The ice moves, and people know that spring is on its way. Spring in early April means fishing for shrimp. Then, in early May, people fish for lobster, crab and groundfish. It is traditional. Historically, seals and other animals were hunted for their meat and fur, but also for seal oil, which has various uses. Later on, I will talk more about things that can be done now that were not done historically, things that suggest the seal hunt can be viewed not only from the perspective of tradition and ancestral rights, but from another perspective too.
About thirty years ago, some visitors arrived with poor intentions but with a very good sense of spectacle. The people who experienced this told me about it. The visitors asked seal hunters in the Magdalen Islands if they could photograph and film them in action. To ensure that the action was vivid enough, they asked the hunters to hit the animals several times and, even if the animal was dead, to continue hitting it with the hakapik. By the way, a hakapik is a club with a hook that is not used to kill the animal. It is used by the hunter to protect himself when on the ice and also to drag the carcass to the boat. There is another projection on the opposite side from the hook.
It is a piece of rectangular iron that is not very thick and is used to crush the seal's skull so that the animal suffers as little as possible. It is designed for that purpose. Although using a rifle may seem easier and cleaner, would you use one on a boat? The ocean causes the boat to rock, making it difficult to hit the target.
The hakapik is a heritage tool still used in the Magdalen Islands. I have described how it is used. At that time, the hunter had already killed the animal. He was being filmed and they asked him to strike some additional blows. These same images were used in Brigitte Bardot's first campaign. The person who asked the hunter to appear in the film knew very well why he asked the hunter to hit the seal again. It was to make the hunt seem savage and cruel and to imply that the hunter was striking the animal again simply to vent his frustration or who knows for what other reason. It created a very bad image. That was the image used by Brigitte Bardot to launch her campaign against the hunt. That is the same image we have seen over and over again.
Recently, in 2007, the famous Rebecca Aldworth, whom I mentioned earlier, also showed up on the ice off the Magdalen Islands to take pictures. At one point, she saw a bloody seal that was not yet dead. For 20 minutes, she filmed that suffering animal, never thinking for a second to put an end to its agony by killing it.
The very same abolitionists, the very same people who condemn cruelty, used pictures, and because they needed those pictures, they acted cruelly. We need to remember that as well. That is part of the game. These people are willing to do anything.
The seal hunt is like an open-air abattoir. Do I need to say it again? I defy anyone who visits that abattoir to tell me he or she loved it, unless that person is cold-blooded and lacking common sense. That is what is happening at present. The hunt is an open-air abattoir, which makes it very difficult for us to fight these people with pictures, especially when they will use anything in any way they can just to get money from people who, when they see these pictures, say that the hunt makes no sense.
This is what we are up against, and it has been going on for 30 years, since the 1970s. That is where we are at. Today, the abolitionists are claiming victory. I feel they are claiming victory on the basis of demagoguery and disinformation. I have always said, and I will say it again, that one day the truth will prevail. That is the only way to deal with this situation. For the truth to prevail, it must be known and recognized. That is why we must engage in a huge information and promotion campaign in Europe and elsewhere. We must not forget that the United States has the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which states that the harp seal is an endangered species.
Yet, in 1970, there were 2 million harp seals, compared to about 6 million now. The species is not in danger, as the numbers show. These numbers were not made up. They are the result of a scientific analysis. In fact, those numbers may be even higher, because we are just talking about the harp seal, the one that is currently being killed and which is the subject of campaigns.
However, we do not hear as much about the grey seal, which is two to three times bigger, which eats more, and which is present in our rivers. Indeed, the grey seal is now present in our rivers, where we also find salmon and trout. This is what is happening right now. That same grey seal eats lobster and crab. In fact, it loves good food. I have no problem with that, but let us just say that there are a few too many of them. For example, it will often eat only part of a cod, because it likes that part better than the rest.
Personally, I love cod. I am the son of a fisher and cod is in my genes. It tastes very good, from head to tail, and it can be cooked in various ways.
Both the grey seal and the harp seal are big eaters. They do not eat peanuts or whatever: they eat products from the sea. Grey seals, which are a lot bigger, reproduce in very large numbers. I saw some of them not that long ago—last year—and I photographed them. There were about 30 grey seals, positioned very close to a fish plant, waiting to eat what was left from the processing, and also eating what was available in the water.
Seal can be eaten in various forms, such as rillettes and terrines, or it can be smoked. It is delicious. It can also be prepared in a number of ways. I even had the opportunity to eat it as a hamburger. I thought it did not make sense, because a hamburger is not seal, but it was just as tasty. So, it can be eaten.
We also know that the fur can be used. I did not bring the seal fur hat that I wear very proudly when our committee examines this issue. That hat is very useful when it rains.
Furthermore, research is currently being done on the heart valves of seals that could eventually help cure heart disease. A group of Greek doctors came to the Magdalen Islands and they successfully treated the valves in question in a clinical environment and used them on animals. Initial experiments have proven very successful and very positive. There is also the collagen factor.
Indeed, the seal hunt as an ancestral activity is not an activity like any other that can be easily replaced by something else. When Paul McCartney came to the Magdalen Islands, he said that if we gave these fishermen money, they would find something else to do.
First of all, in order to properly understand, seal hunters are fishermen who do not do it simply for the money, but also because of tradition, and because these are the first signs of spring, the first signs of marine life. For them, it is extremely important. They even go hunting in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions. The hunt went well this year. It was relatively easy, because seals were found just off the coast of the Magdalen Islands. People could even travel on foot to do their hunting, but that is not the case every year.
Sometimes the conditions are extremely difficult and dangerous, as I said. Now we have this decision by the European Parliament based solely on demagoguery and misinformation. This decision hurts; it is disappointing and extremely frustrating. That is why we must challenge this decision as aggressively as possible here in the House of Commons and elsewhere.