Dated: 19 APR 1978
Received: 01 MAY 1978
Canadian Harp Seal Hunt
From the Office of the Prime Minister
Cabinet du Premier Ministre., Ottawa, K1A 0A2
Mr. Eben Hopson, Chairman,
Inuit Circumpolar Conference
Dear Mr. Hopson:
On behalf of the prime minister, I wish to acknowledge and thank you for your letter of April 3 concerning the seal hunt.
There is indeed a great deal of misinformation circulated on the seal hunt issue. Although the government continues its efforts to make the facts of the issue known, some groups continue to circulate incorrect information, and there is unfortunately little that can be done except to provide the facts and hope that eventually the issue will be made clear. Mr. Trudeau would want me to wish you the best of luck in your approach to anti-seal hunt groups to have them refute what they have led people around the world to believe about the seal hunt.
For your information, I have enclosed a copy of Mr. Trudeau’s letter to Brigitte Bardot on the seal hunt, along with an information booklet.
Thank you again for writing to Mr. Trudeau.
Yours sincerely, Hellie Wilson, assistant correspondence secretary.
English translation of the Prime Minister’s letter of January 19 to Brigitte Bardot regarding the seal hunt:
Thank you for your open letter of December 13 concerning the seal hunt. I, too, am sorry that we could not meet last year, for if I had had the opportunity to speak with you and provide you with more accurate information, perhaps you would not have written such a letter.
When we are examining questions which involve so many psychological, zoological, economic, social and even cultural factors, it is necessary to consult the specialists. The outward appearance of a phenomenon may often elicit emotions which bear little relation to the hard facts. We must be careful, for what we may see on the surface is not necessarily a true indication of the situation.
Just what do scientists tell us about the harp seal and the hunt? The animal pathologists, biologists and veterinarians who go to the hunt unanimously agree that the seals are killed in a more humane manner than most domestic animals in any civilized country. The method used renders the seal insensitive to pain instantly. Fisheries officials are present to guarantee humane practices, and these officials are accompanied by independent veterinarians and Humane Society representatives who help them ensure that the prescribed method of slaughter is followed.
Naturally, the scene on the ice floes is not pretty but we must remember that neither is the scene in slaughterhouses or farm yards. The fact that mainly young seals are involved is upsetting for it is seldom that we are not deeply touched by the sight of nearly all young animals in their natural habitat.
Those who are opposed to the harp seal hunt maintain that the species is in danger of extinction. There is no truth to this argument: the species is the second most numerous of the seal family and currently numbers approximately 1,250,000 animals, giving it a very wide margin for survival. Even Jacques Cousteau, a world authority if there ever was one, acknowledges this fact. Furthermore, it has been scientifically established that, at present catch levels, the harp seal population is actually increasing in number over previous years.
What attitude should the authorities take in view of these incontestable facts? The government knows that the economic situation is very bad in the regions where fishermen hunt seals. The skins, meat and fat obtained from the hunt are a vital means of supplementing their extremely low income. Of course, I do not want to reduce the entire issue to a matter of money. Nevertheless, the much deplored hunt relieves a great deal of poverty, is carried out humanely, and does not endanger the species. This being the case, what possible reason could the government invoke to ban the seal hunt?
The question has to be examined in the broader context of the evolutionary process. Hunting is a normal and essential function of all creatures in the animal kingdom, and human beings are the supreme hunters. It is an infinitely more complex function for people than it is for other animals, and it, of necessity, reflects the enormous and terrible dangers inherent in human life and evolution. Is not our very planet subject to such fundamental hazards? Hunting, fishing and rearing and killing animals are necessary for our existence, and these activities involve many and diverse risks. Our duty in every case is to meet these needs as intelligently and humanely as possible in a manner that safeguards the balance of nature’s resources and does not reduce human dignity, despite what appearances might indicate.
This is exactly what we are doing in the case of the seal hunt. The harp seal could have been endangered, but we are protecting it. We are also enforcing a method of slaughter which eliminates any unnecessary cruelty and degrading treatment. The blow delivered with a club on an ice floe or by a cleaver in the slaughterhouse is certainly not a tender gesture, but in both cases the animal is made completely and instantly insensitive to pain.
It would be a fine world if we did not have to kill at all — not even painlessly — in order to survive, but then we would be discussing a different evolutionary process, a different universe and a different reality.
Yours sincerely, P.E. Trudeau