Mr. Speaker, part of being a team is that when one part of the team drops the ball, the other part of the team picks it up and runs into the end zone.
I really want to thank the member for West Nova for picking the ball up on this piece of legislation. I had originally introduced this legislation prior to the last election, before becoming a parliamentary secretary. As members know, parliamentary secretaries cannot introduce private members' legislation.
The member for West Nova, very ably, was able to pick up this legislation and bring it to the House of Commons. Hopefully it will gain the support of all members of the House and go through. It is a very needed piece of legislation.
I do welcome the opportunity to speak in favour of Bill C-555, an act respecting the marine mammal regulations, seal fishery observation licence. The proposed amendments will make the annual seal harvest safer for all concerned. Before highlighting the specifics, however, let me put the safety issues into a larger context.
It is no secret that Canada's seal harvest has drawn the ire of many celebrities over the years. Many B-list and failed actors and actresses have used the seal hunt to try to promote their own careers because they glean some public interest in the issue. I think that is false. I think it is shameful.
They are often the ones who say they support the downtrodden and poor people across the planet. They go on television and say how much they do to support charities. In fact, what they are doing is promoting their own careers at the expense of those who are truly in need, the average sealers and their families who need the seal hunt to provide sustenance and a small amount of money to help make ends meet at the end of the month. Those are the people who are being hurt by these B-list, washed-up actors and actresses who protest the seal hunt.
Members may recall in 2006 when Paul McCartney and his then-wife, Heather Mills, who is a very rich lady now, because she divorced him and took half his money, apparently, appeared on a ice floe in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for a photo op. The seal clearly did not want to play ball with Sir Paul and snapped at the couple. A photograph later appeared in the Sun newspaper in Britain under a headline, “A Hard Day's Bite”.
I wish that seal had had longer teeth, quite frankly. Sir Paul McCartney has not been seen on an ice floe since that unfortunate incident. That photo op gone wrong actually performed a valuable public service. It showed the world that seals are not the cuddly creatures they are often made out to be by the media and by these protestors, but rather wild animals in the same league as beavers and bears.
I am proud that Canada's seal harvest is biologically sustainable, well managed, and carried out humanely. It is an effective marriage of traditional knowledge and modern science, one that we are always ready to improve upon through new techniques and modern methods. Unfortunately, there are those who continue to malign Canada's good name on this issue. I am not only speaking of celebrity activists but also of our trading partners. As we approach the annual seal harvest, it is a good opportunity to remind these partners and our stakeholders that the Government of Canada supports this industry as it engages in this time-honoured tradition.
As members may recall, the European Union has banned the import and sale of seal products since 2010. This was an affront to Canadian sealers and injurious to Canada's coastal, Inuit, and other aboriginal communities, and the Government of Canada quickly challenged the ban through the WTO.
Last November, the dispute panel found that the European Union's import ban did, in fact, violate its international trade obligations. However, at the same time, that panel said the ban on seal products can be justified due to some of the public's concerns regarding the seal harvest, referring to propaganda released by the anti-sealing efforts. These findings show the anti-sealing lobby is having a drastic effect. Through emotionally exploitive images and misinformation about Canada's sealing practices, special interest groups are turning public opinion against the seal harvest, particularly in Europe. That is why the European Union argued that the seal ban was necessary to address so-called public morals.
The acceptance of public morality as a basis for discriminatory bans on seal products is not only of concern to Canada. The panel report undermines a rules-based global trading system that gives consumers the power to make their own purchasing decisions. Indeed, upholding a ban on seal products creates a dangerous precedent for global trade, but they did it anyway.
Of course, this government is appealing the panel's findings through the appellate body of the WTO. We will continue to defend our seal harvest as a humane, sustainable, and well-regulated industry, and confront any contrary views with cold, hard facts. In the short term, however, we recognize that the panel's findings will fuel all those who oppose the seal harvest so zealously.
This brings me back to the current legislation. Many special interest groups, critics, and celebrities are concerned with the management of the seal harvest. Their desire to monitor the harvest up close may involve unnecessary risk, however, and we must not wait for tragedy to occur before we act.
The bill before the House today seeks to reduce that risk. Under proposed attachments and amendments, no person, except under the authority of the seal fishery observation licence issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, could approach within one nautical mile of a person fishing for seals.
There would be those who would solve the problem of risk simply by making the seal harvest go away. That is not a practical solution, neither for Canadian sealers nor Canada's coastal, Inuit, or other aboriginal communities that depend on the seal harvest in so many ways. It is a question of respect for culture and a way of life that has continued for generations.
It is also a question of the revenue generated by coastal communities from the seal harvest. For example, each year the sales of meat and skin for garments and arts and crafts generate $1 million for the Nunavut economy.
All that said, we are not debating the continued existence of the seal harvest. Instead, we are looking into how to address the increased risks that are posed by some individuals who observe without a licence. By requiring a few succinct changes to the Marine Mammal Regulations, Bill C-555 proposes an elegant and thoughtful solution to this challenge.
The Canadian sealing industry has evolved over the past several hundred years, or since the early 1700s, when the first organized occurrence of the annual hunt was actually documented. The seal hunt has been going on for well over 500 years and, according to the documented history of our first nations people, well before that.
Over the years, the nature and conditions of the hunt and of the vessels, tools, and methods used by sealers have evolved, and technology has improved. That said, this is not the first change to the Marine Mammal Regulations in recent years. Members may recall, for example, that the regulations were amended in 2009 to ensure more humane harvesting methods. Nor will it likely be the last change to these regulations. New challenges and risks arise that we cannot foresee, and hopefully future governments will act just as responsibly. To be clear, the intention is to preserve the authority and discretion of the Governor in Council to modify the regulations in the future through normal regulatory processes, as opposed to having to do it by legislation.
Currently, the Marine Mammal Regulations permit anyone to observe the seal hunt from outside a half nautical mile of a seal harvester at work. That is about 900 metres or only 3,000 feet. It is not far enough. Should unauthorized observers violate the half nautical mile distance, our enforcement officials are left with relatively little time, usually in difficult environmental conditions in the sea, to react and intervene if necessary. Requiring unlicensed observers to stay farther away from the sealers who are doing their work would allow our enforcement officials additional time to intercept a vessel that breaches the distance and keep it from disrupting the harvest and possibly endangering the safety of the sealers, who are just trying to make an honest living.
That is why Bill C-555 proposes to double the safety barrier to one full nautical mile, which is about 1,800 metres or 6,000 feet. As I mentioned, this change would allow for more effective enforcement of the regulations in situations in which non-licensed observers deliberately set out to disrupt the hunt. The added distance would afford fishery officers the additional time they need to react to breaches of the one nautical mile limit and intervene safely and effectively, to prevent disruption of the hunt and to protect the sealers who may be put at risk, while maintaining the current regime in place for licensed observers who have followed the rules.
This may lead to fewer disruptions like the one that took place in 2008 involving the Farley Mowat, in which a vessel approached sealers engaged in the harvest and caused them to fear for their safety. The increased distance proposed in Bill C-555 would help to prevent these types of incidents and ultimately lead to a more orderly harvest.
In conclusion, the seal harvest remains a fixture of life in the coastal communities of Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the north. It is embedded in our culture and provides much needed income to strengthen the livelihoods in remote communities. This government stands behind all those sealers who are trying to make an honest living and maintain their quality of life.
I invite all hon. members in the House to please join me in supporting this legislation.