Seal hunters in CanadaThere are no shortage of ways to trip yourself up in the emotionally saturated mire where animal cruelty meets cultural relativism. I’m usually happy to leave such mine fields alone, but rare is the opportunity for me to talk about my homeland, my nowland, and clubbing baby seals all in one breath.

This past week Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea was in Beijing to announce a long-fought for deal to open up the Chinese market for importing of Canadian seal products. The deal was made all the more important after the seal products industry lost a huge portion of its market after the European Union banned seal products in ’09.

The news sparked a tirade of outcrying from animal rights groups everywhere, but none so sound-bitey as professor Lu Di, director of the China Small Animal Protection Association, who said:

“Seal products have been rejected by the majority of Canadians and people in Europe and North America. It is insulting for Canada to market these products in China. The perception of Canada’s sealing industry that the Chinese eat everything and the Chinese people do not care about animal suffering is indicative of the racist and cultural imperialistic attitude towards non-western societies still held by some Canadians.”

First, let me say that Lu’s gig is a tough one. As it was so wisely put to me by a neighbour when I first arrived in China: In a country with limited human rights, animal rights are a rare thing. I’m certain that Lu and the CSAPA do awesome work in very difficult circumstances.

Sadly, a solid moral compass and the endurance to fight an uphill battle has done little to give Lu a clue to what the hell he’s talking about — that PhD doesn’t seem to be helping either.

The hakapik-sized hole in Lu’s understanding seems to be that he thinks the sealers and the ministry that governs them feel that what they are doing is terrible and cruel, and that they are simply just looking for some dimwitted, godless country to dupe into buying the wares of their evil evil ways.

Can I just repeat this: “…indicative of the racist and cultural imperialistic attitude towards non-western societies still held by some Canadians.” Now I have no doubt that many Canadians are absolutely racist — and by no means is that limited to white, or old-gen Canadians. For a country as multi-cultural as Canada, there’s at least as much racism among, as there is towards, its vast immigrant population.

But that’s hardly the point, Lu is saying that because the Canadian seal product industry is focusing on a market that may actually want their product, and where it’s not illegal, that (some) Canadians are racist? I can’t see the connection any better than GerryP, who left a brilliant comment at the Guardian article where I first read about this story:

Its interesting how issues become confused. Given that the Canadian hunters kill 70,000 seals a year I am struggling to find the link between the productive disposal of those dead animals and “racist bias” and “cultural imperialism”. As regards “dumping” China has been artificially holding its currency low for years to enable it to export, isn’t that a better example of dumping?

I equally find it difficult to equate the new washing machine that I have just purchased, that was made in China, with cultural imperialism. But then again probably I am just thick.

What Gerry so rightly points out, and what Lu (and most opponents of the seal hunt) seems to have missed is that this is about selling a product.

According to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the 2005 seal catch ranked fifth in value of all the species it monitors, after snow crab, shrimp, lobster, and cod. That’s money and jobs for people in a pretty shitastically unemployable part of Canada. What’s more, it’s largely (according to government scientists at least) needed to cull a herd of animals that would otherwise decimate fish stocks that the region also depends on for its livelihood.

It’s not racism, it’s business.

It’s a messy business, but slaughtering animals always is. Glistening-eyed baby seal pictures aside, we as a species kill animals for all sorts of reasons, and this is no different.

A 2002 report in the Canadian Veterinary Journal found that “the large majority of seals taken during this hunt … are killed in an acceptably humane manner.”

This study found that 98 per cent of hunted seals it examined had been killed properly. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) cites this study among others as proof that the hunt opponents are wrong in their accusations of widespread cruelty. [source]

Now obviously if you’re against killing animals for food, skins, etc. (and I was for the better part of a decade), then “killed properly” surely means very little to you. However, to vilify one industry while largely ignoring the many many others is just hypocritical — yet it’s rare you hear the call for the end of cow and pig slaughter with as much gusto as the pleas to stop the seal hunt. Despite what I feel is a fairly large and obvious failing of logic, and surely due in no small part to celebrity-fueled and mob enforced pressure, the European Union banned imports of seal products from Canada in 2009.

So Lu, you should see this deal for what it really is — not a racist last hope for a demonic industry of maple syrup sucking skull crushers, but a tip of the hat from my country to yours for understanding that if you eat one species, you may as well eat them all.

I keep trying to return to that “cultural imperialism” bit, and find some way to tackle it, but for the life of me I cannot begin to figure out how cultural imperialism fits into this argument at all. Surely Lu doesn’t believe that this is all some elaborate ploy by the Canadian government (and us devious Canucks in general) to get hockey on CCTV and Tim Horton’s on every corner. We did previously try that when we sent Mark Rowswell over here years ago — it was a colossal failure, eh.


  1. Classic example of a Chinese person using long, important sounding Western words to make his arguement seem tough and plausible. At least it’s a step up from “Canadians have hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”!

    • Jiong, I have to say the same thought occurred to me. I think the reason the ‘cultural imperialism’ side of his argument doesn’t fit is because he’s just slapped that phrase in there to sound like an intellectual should, although this tactic isn’t the sole province of Chinese academics!

  2. All very interesting story about BABY Seals. Im a born Canadian. I do not agree with the killing of seals for the commercial usa. I do agree that the Native Canadian can hunt the seal for food. The Eskimo is a Canadian native. If fact they almost look like Chinese people from the north. This being said I would urge the Chinese person that wrote the Blog to get informed about Canadians before he write about them or call them .racist imperialists’
    I think he may be talking about the Japanese who envaded China in 1937.
    I do understand that the education level in China is not equal to the Canadain system.

  3. This story is blown out of portion. If fact it is stupid, very stupid. I can not believe what Im reading. Ill informed people should not comment on anything they do not know about. What a waste of time..Get a life.. and a education

    • “Ill informed people should not comment on anything they do not know about.”

      I’m not sure I follow you. Are you referring to your previous post?

    • I’m not sure seal products were ever “embraced” (to be “rejected”) by Canadians. I can’t remember ever having the option of having some fried-in-authentic-seal-oil fries or a bit of baby seal burger growing up.

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