Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of Parliament, for the opportunity to give you an update on what's happening on the seal file.
Last March my first involvement with it was when I was asked to take a lead on a delegation going to Europe, a delegation of sealers from different parts of the country, the Premier of Nunavut, and a minister from Newfoundland and Labrador—I think there was an election in Quebec at the time and it wasn't as practical for them to attend—and we had hosts from industry. We hit five European countries over a two-week period, in London, Brussels, The Hague, Vienna, and Berlin.
We had a series of meetings with a variety of parliamentarians, media, and senior officials in government, putting forth the Canadian viewpoints and trying to correct the inaccuracies that have been out there.
I consider that reasonably effective, concerning the grounding that the issue has in Europe. Some unbiased, fairly balanced media did emanate from that as a result, but by and large, some of the major media and tabloids just didn't show up and carried their own story of outdated videos.
Since that time it's been an issue on which I've spent considerable time. I've gone to a host of meetings—no fewer than a dozen, well into the double digits—interdepartmental meetings here in Ottawa, looking at strategies and trying to get resources to deal with this issue and to be able to advance it on the European scene.
Part of that involved working with the provinces. I met with representatives of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I met with representatives of the province of Quebec recently, and I meet with the Premier of Nunavut on Friday on this issue also, to be able to work together, pulling on one oar in this particular battle we have that's been grounded in Europe for at least two or three decades.
Within that, I've had a series of other meetings and interactions. I've met with like-minded countries to get support for our issue within the European scene. I met with parliamentarians and the most senior officials within the governments of Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden to advance our cause, to get like-minded support on the issue.
Also, recently I went to some not so like-minded areas and met with parliamentarians, senior officials, and chairs of committees in legislatures. I just got back last Friday from Europe. I had 22 meetings in eight days, in Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen, Rome, and Brussels, with numerous people, on this particular file, from meeting with the committees that deal with it in Parliament to advisers to the chancellery to a variety of places in different countries.
It's been a very significant file that has taken up a reasonable amount of the time on the files I've been asked to deal with overall—that is, the broad spectrum of the fishing file generally, with different countries.
We do know that the European Commission received a request to deal with it at the European level. To give you an example, on April 28 last year, it was well advanced in Belgium. In fact, a lot of this advancing of legislation and resolutions being passed goes back two and three years. On April 28 last year, Belgium passed legislation banning the importation of seal and seal products. On October 23 last year, it was banned in the Netherlands and officially came into law. These are processes that have been very, very well advanced.
Our goal, certainly, looking at it, was to try to halt any other countries from moving on this ban. That's why the focus was on areas that had given indication that there would be a ban—Germany, for example.
Italy, Austria, and the U.K., for example, have said it's a European Commission matter and it should be dealt with on a European-wide level. That's why it has been handed to the European Commission.
Under the environment, Commissioner Dimas is responsible for the file. He indicated back on March 15 last year, in the plenary session of the European Parliament, that they don't have a problem with the conservation part of the issue but there have been conflicting reports on the humaneness aspect and they will look into that.
As a result of that, the European Commission commissioned EFSA, which is the European Food Safety Authority, a reputable, professional organization with veterinarians and expertise, to render an opinion on humaneness. There was considerable input leading into that process, I guess, from public stakeholders, particularly Canada. We responded to meet all the deadlines that were requested. They had a meeting in Parma, Italy. The first stage of that occurred in early October. There were other submissions that needed to be made by November 1. We submitted information to correct any inaccuracies and to update aspects of the preliminary draft report, which came out at the end of September.
EFSA rendered its verdict and issued its report. It was published on December 19. It's on the website and is pubicly shown. In the EFSA report to the European Commission, they indicated that many seals can be and are killed in a humane manner. It indicated that the rifle and the hakapik are humane methods of killing when used appropriately. EFSA gave a scientific report to the commission. It's not something the commission can hold up and wave. NGOs I think issued a news release on that, hailing it as a victory for them.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans indicated that it's a very decent report and one we accept, because it establishes what would be considered humane methods of killing. They made certain recommendations in that report, the very same recommendations on humaneness that the international veterinarian working group released in their report in November 2005.
One of the steps that's not currently in the regulations in Canada is the bleeding process. In the killing process, sometimes a seal is pretty well decapitated, with expanding ammunition, and the bleeding becomes a moot point. Through consultations in Atlantic Canada and in the Quebec regions--there were four series of consultations with sealers--there was agreement by sealers to advance this third step and include that. That's a process that has been moving for the past couple of years. It wouldn't have been practical to put that into the regulations if we started today, but it's practical to put it into regulations for 2009 and to use that as a condition of licensing in 2008, which will allow that framework to advance.
We will meet all of what are considered humane standards, as outlined in EFSA's report to the European Commission. But that's not the only report the European Commission is dealing with. They commissioned another report by a Danish consulting firm, and that would be the COWI report.
The COWI report was released as a preliminary draft, and we received it on January 10. On January 14, 2008, there was a validation workshop with stakeholders, one from each of the countries affected, and there was input followed and input gathered from provinces that made submissions to correct inaccuracies. There are a lot of gaps in the report. The final report will be released on March 1. It will not necessarily be public. It will be turned in to the European Commission, which commissioned that report, and it's going to deal with broader issues.
The EFSA report will fit into that, but it will deal with socio-economic aspects, legislative requirements, and broader aspects. That will be handed to the European Commission on March 1. Where they will go with that, and so on, who knows?
I don't want to take up all the time speaking, so I will stop.
I'll just make this last point. There are two dynamics in Europe. One is the European Commission, which is authorized to deal with this. The other dynamic is the European Parliament, and I'm not referring to PACE, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. The European Commission will deal with it as the authoritative body for the European Union.
Members of Parliament are elected at large in all the countries of the European Union--785 of them. They signed a resolution, too, some 450, the largest number ever signed, to advance this issue. A lot of that has been misinformed information. I met with significant groups in that parliament and their leaders on some of these issues, in addition to going to a whole host of other meetings, which I won't get into at this time. I realize that you want an opportunity to ask questions and probably advance some points you are interested in.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll try to put a perspective on that one.
Number one, I think it's fair to say that trade is a concern for the European Commission and for member states on this issue. It's an issue that I've raised with individual member states, and I've indicated to them and to their leadership on this file that they have a responsibility too, as member states, to have an input on this decision, because it affects them as member states.
The EC would normally issue a directive on what action they would take, and they would expect member states to follow that directive, as happened in the 1982-83 ban on whitecoats and bluebacks.
We felt strongly on the trade issue, and I spoke with numerous ministers on this file. I felt that it's an issue that should get to a decision, to the WTO challenge. The Government of Canada served notice to the European Commission on July 31 last year that they were going to take the WTO process.
There was a panel convened, and that process has begun. The consultations on that issue occurred on November 14 in Brussels. We've challenged that at the WTO.
We're in the stage of a consultation process, which is an opportunity to be able to hopefully get to an amicable resolution. Probably 40% to 45% of cases that go to the WTO get resolved at that phase. Others don't, and a choice then has to be made to go to a full-scale panel.
Yes. I think what I see on the issue, from my perspective, is that there were efforts made on numerous different bases but there was no lead on the file. There was nothing glued to keep it together. There was an effort here, there was an effort made another year, an effort made here. DFO doesn't do advocacy. That's not the role. It's to regulate, to manage that file. Who stands up and does advocacy to counteract what's going on in Europe?
The embassies have been very active in sending letters, in giving information, in counteracting those falsehoods within each of the particular jurisdictions there, but there was no glue to it, so when I looked at it and came back from Europe in May, I said we have to get some direction on this file; I'm coming to Ottawa. I wanted to have meetings with a variety of people. I met with numerous people from ministers to deputy ministers, assistant deputies. I went to numerous departments I have a concern with--International Trade, Foreign Affairs, the Privy Council Office, Fisheries. I met with a variety of people on this file and had a number of meetings with at least 30 in attendance representing interdepartmental aspects and said we have to pull this together. We've got to get some direction on this. We have to get cohesiveness, not an ad hoc appearance, and that's why I'm working with the provinces so that we all of us can work together on this file and see what's the best strategy now to move from here in this.
There were two things emanating from last summer. This has advanced really far. How do we stop it? There are two avenues I see. One is the European Parliament. I have met with three of the people on major groups. In particular, I could say one is a very strong ally who represents a group of 285 in the European Parliament. I met with other groups that might not be so friendly on the issue and tried to.... While 785 parliamentarians are not going to be experts on this, the leaders of the respective groups on this file are important.
So we'd be looking at a process of educating, providing information to them, two-way communications, because the European Parliament will have an impact. Even though they're not a structure that's a legislative and legal entity, they will influence this decision and the outcome of this. Even though the European Commission is handling it, the European parliamentarians elected by their jurisdictions to go to Brussels will have an input.
So there are two things we're working on. We're working in the EC with the like-minded, and going to the countries that are opposed to try to drive that point home and also deal with parliamentarians in other fora to be able to show them the truth and the facts and to make decisions not on emotions but to make them basically on science and based on sustainability and other factors that we've been putting forth.
I've had a team with me on each of these occasions. On this last trip, for example, and on my previous trip I've asked to have experts with me. I personally requested Dr. Garry Stenson, a senior marine mammal scientist who spent 22 years on the file and who was consulted by EFSA as an expert in the world—probably more expert on the seal file in the north Atlantic, I would say, than perhaps anybody else in the world today—who accompanied me on these files.
I had people accompanying from DFAIT and also from Fisheries and Oceans. I wanted to get people around who, whether in resource management or in science, and in particularly in selling this, I think, on science, had a lot of credibility. We had a team of 16 who went to Europe last year, with Jean-Claude Lapierre—I think from your constituency—and Leo St. Onge, a Quebec sealer. Industry came; government representatives came. We went and looked at different aspects that each of us would touch on.
When something is started, to take the fireman analogy, you have to go to the core of it; not try to deal with the symptoms but deal with the cause. So we tried to go to the core of it, to the people in the process who intend to legislate, and to put it on the table with these people—the departments, the senior guys, the deputy minister equivalents who are going to advance it, and the parliamentarians and the ministries in those countries that are going to put it forth—to say, this is not correct. It's sustainable, it's humane, it has a very strong socio-economic value.
We do that. We have a team; we go as a team. I am not a lone person on these ever. I've always had a minimum of three and a high as a delegation of sixteen.
We look at it strategically, at what is most strategic. It's not always, I guess, best to publicly release strategies. We deal with NGOs and other people who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this issue.
But I will say we are looking very seriously at this file. We are looking at avenues whereby we can stop the train that started on this issue. If some firefighting has to be done, I call it putting accurate information in the forum of legislators and parliamentarians so that they can make an informed decision, not an emotional decision because their constituents tell them “this is what we want”.
I guess the strategy has been multi-pronged. Number one, it's to strike alliances with like-minded countries within the European Commission that would get us support for getting a resolution within. We have Denmark as one of the European communities. Sweden and Finland are there; I've met with them. I know that those countries, Sweden and Finland, have written to the European Union asking that no ban be instituted unless there's a scientific basis to do so.
These countries have responded and have worked internally. I don't think it's practical to expect a country within to start clamouring in a public forum, but working within, with like-minded people within and like-minded people outside, such as Norway. When we went to Italy, Norway came, and Denmark came, and we sat down with the delegation from Greenland—I met with the minister of fisheries in Greenland last week—to get a joint effort before the Italian committees in Parliament on those countries.
That's the like-minded approach. The other approach within the EEC countries that are spearheading this is to focus on the countries that are looking at legislation and to put forth facts to them that refute information they have that has been put on an emotional basis.
A third prong is a challenge: that if they're going to do something on a ban that is contrary to their obligations under the GATT and the technical barriers to trade positions of the WTO, we will challenge it as being a right to defend a legitimate hunt that's putting money into the pockets and that is a way of life, a tradition, a culture, an economic activity.
We have looked at that. As for the future, we're looking at a discussion, on the agenda tomorrow in Montreal with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the aquaculture and fisheries ministers, of this issue. I spoke with Premier Charest two weeks ago on this issue before he went to Paris, and he said he was raising the issue with the Prime Minister in Paris.
We are looking at how we control the provinces together. The Province of Quebec has indicated they're very supportive of this issue—the premier has indicated he is very supportive—and Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut, which form over 99% of the sealing constituency in Canada. We're looking at how we could put on a combined effort, whether with parliamentarians on parliamentarians, whether with premiers or fisheries ministers in these jurisdictions, over the next while.
That's in process now. What should we do in March on the international day of protest? Probably this will come to a head in four or five months, with decision-making maybe in late spring in the European Commission. How do we deal with this? How do we respond when these decisions come into effect?
So it is a fairly comprehensive look at this issue.
No, but for their own within Alaska. There's hunting occurring in Alaska.
In 1975 CITES followed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the United States, and the United States did not institute a ban on the basis of humaneness. Theirs was on the basis of conservation. CITES was post-Marine Mammal Protection Act and it has not referenced seals as being an issue to be listed under CITES and there was no basis.
So on four occasions in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Government of Canada made interventions at the highest levels of the United States to change that. They have been reluctant to undo or change what's been done. It's as if enacting legislation and coming back and undoing it is probably a lot tougher than doing it. I don't know what their reasons are, but four approaches have been made from the late 1990s to the early 2000s to have this changed, but they haven't been receptive to it.
So I think it's fair to say that the United States.... I'm going to be having meetings with the United States in the month of February on this issue.
With regard to other countries, yes, we've looked at strategies on other countries. In the Baltics there are numerous things under consideration at the moment. There are numerous other member states within the EU that are on the Baltic--right from Poland to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and also Russia.
There are other issues besides the like-minded, because it's seals today but it's something else tomorrow. Whether it's hunting wolves in another country or it's other species there, this has broader implications for member states of the EU--and we've been looking at it strategically to get support--because if the domino falls, it doesn't stop. There are serious other implications.
Certainly I think it's fair to say that has been a consideration, and it is under discussion, yes, and some meetings have been held on this issue already.
Thank you, sir. I have no intention of allowing Mr. Loyola Sullivan to answer this question. I'm just going to talk.
First of all, Mr. Sullivan, thank you very much for coming in this morning. There were a couple of points made by my colleague that you answered directly, but I think you might have missed the point, especially with Monsieur Blais.
I think what Monsieur Blais was getting at is that when you go to Europe and take a group from the provinces, that's important, but it would also be important to take some federal politicians with you. Most of us have been there. We've been at discussions, at the Parliament, at the Council of Europe, and have been involved in this issue for several years, and would be happy to help in any way we can.
The other point I want to raise is that we saw a video here last spring by Raoul Jomphe, I think his name was, who actually attended the hunt, invited by the Humane Society of the United States, and found a number of inconsistencies that occurred there. The Humane Society of the United States, in one instance, found a seal that hadn't been killed immediately. Basically, instead of allowing this seal to fall into the water and drown, which would have been the humane thing to do, they actually pulled it out of the water so they could watch it suffer a long and lingering death on the ice, but they could get it all on camera. He has recorded this. It's an actual fact.
We're not dealing with a group of people here who have any intention of playing by any set of parameters or rules. These guys are modern-day terrorists, and we have to point that out. And I'm being polite. I really think in much stronger terms than that.
So I think that film should be purchased by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and it should be put on the BBC and on public television in Europe and allow the Europeans to see another side of this story. It was a terrific film.
We know we're behind the eight ball here, and we know we're not going to convince the Europeans overnight. You mentioned here, a minute ago, like-minded countries. When we met with the fishery committee from the Council of Europe, in 2006 I think it was, the members there from Ireland and from Scotland had voted against the seal hunt. Once they listened to our delegation, they said, “Wait a minute; we made a mistake.” The members from Spain and from Portugal were onside and are actually looking not for a hunt, but for a cull, in their own countries.
So there are like-minded countries there. You mentioned Denmark, but Iceland is certainly much more like-minded. Scotland is, again, on board. I know you're looking at these opportunities, but I can't stress it enough, especially that film by Mr. Jomphe. It should be on public television in Europe, however we can get it there, because there are two sides to this story.
Now I'm going to give it over to you, and I know I won't get another question in.
We aired the film by Raoul Jomphe in Amsterdam. We had a public opening there and invitations. We showed My Ancestors were Rogues and Murderers, a film done by Anne Troake. We did it in Italy recently, with 20 different media there, and a media forum occurred in Italy on that issue. We have been using those avenues.
We've been preaching that this is the Humane Society of the United States, basically an NGO out there concerned with humaneness, and they pulled the seal back onto the ice to video it for another 25 minutes or 45 minutes, a suffering seal, when there was a sailor, Jean-Claude Lapierre, no distance away, from Îles-de-la-Madeleine, who could have come over and put the seal out of its misery, but no one has ever mentioned to a sealer to do that. At that type of event we speak that, we say that, we correct that.
We do have in Scotland Ian McCartney, who was a minister there. He was one of the drivers between the ban in Europe from Scotland on this issue. I got very good support from a group, members of the European Parliament, with a Scottish person who was very sympathetic and understands this, who I met just recently in Brussels, last week, and I consider an ally to advance it.
It's kind of difficult to talk about strategies in a more public forum. An in camera forum here I think would accomplish a lot more and make you more informed, because I don't want to talk about aspects. That's like going and strategizing with two teams, and one team is out in the public giving out their strategy and the other team doesn't. It's really difficult in the session to do that, and I want to be honest and open on this process.