Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll start off by saying that this is a little less nerve-racking than the last time I appeared before this committee.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]
Good morning. Thank you for allowing me to speak about the seal harvest, and in particular about the act respecting national seal products day
I would personally like to thank committee members, and Mr. Simms for his work in supporting this act, and for inviting me to be here to speak with you today. I would also like to take this time to thank the many members of Parliament, including some who are on this committee, who have spoken out continually in support of this act in the House of Commons.
Last, but definitely not least, I would like to thank former senator Céline Hervieux-Payette, who championed this initiative in the Senate in 2014, and whose hard work has led us here to this stage of the process today. Thank you.
The seal harvest is a crucial aspect of Canada's Inuit culture and livelihood, and it has been for thousands of years. The sad truth is that very few people truly understand the importance of this issue to Inuit. Many southern Canadians are aware of the seal fur market, and can understand how this could be beneficial from an economic standpoint. What people have difficulty grasping is the necessity of this harvest for sustenance for our communities.
Although the nutrition north program is well-intentioned, it's insufficient, and broken by the way. On that, I would like to say that I look forward to some positive changes coming soon.
Food insecurity is one of the biggest issues in Nunavut, where nearly 50% of the households experience it. What's worse than that, and deeply concerning, is that 60% of children are living in food-insecure households. Inuit rely on the seal for food. When a hunter returns to his community with a harvested seal, the food feeds his family and several others members of the community. It provides much-needed protein and vitamins, and allows the communities to survive. It also brings the community together, and this is the way it has always been.
Beyond the immediate use of seal as a food source, seal furs have traditionally been used as clothing to keep us warm in the winter months. Over the years, furs have become a commodity used to trade with merchants who travel the north, generating much-needed income for northern communities. The sale of seal products like fur, and the international commercialization of seal products led over time to economic sustainability, which allowed Inuit to continue to harvest seals and enjoy food security.
However, with the United States' Marine Mammal Protection Act, enacted in 1972, and later, the European Union's ban on seal products, the market for seal products has slowly declined. As a result, the cost of and demand for our products has been driven down, diminishing profits from trade, and making the market non-viable.
This industry is small. It's important that we work together to ensure its success.
There are exemptions in the European Union ban that allow for the trade of seal products produced by Inuit in Nunavut. However, Inuit in several other regions of Canada, particularly those in northern Quebec and Labrador, are so far not part of this exemption. I would really encourage new partnering approaches from sealing organizations with those in these regions, in an effort to include them as well in taking advantage of and maximizing the indigenous exemption in the ban.
By limiting our ability to trade and sell products in an international market, a crucial revenue stream has been diminished, and Inuit now struggle to afford being able to go harvest seals. Harvesting seals is expensive. You have to buy equipment, fuel for snowmobiles and boats, and ammunition for your firearms. It's not cheap, especially in the north. With these harvesting costs and the increased costs of living in Nunavut, the need to generate income from the seal fur industry is needed now more than ever.
European animal activists groups initiated the mission to end the seal fur trade, and in doing so, a major source of economic growth was lost. To this day, they present false information regarding seal populations and the harvesting of baby seals.
This is very upsetting because this fraudulent sales pitch is done in an effort to gain monthly donations and is currently being used now even in China, a potential market for seal products. In reality, the seal population, as we've heard, has tripled over the last 30 years, and the current population of between eight and nine million could double by 2030. Also, the harvesting of baby whitecoat seals, as we all know, is illegal and hasn't been practised for almost 30 years.
There is also a European seal cull that surprisingly continues. They like to keep that one quiet. Over several years thousands of seals have been killed off the coast of the United Kingdom in an attempt to protect their fish stocks. This cull is much different than what Inuit and Canadian harvesters practise because the seals are not harvested. They're just killed, left in the water, and wasted. As you can imagine, this is frustrating for Inuit and Canadian harvesters to hear as European activists, some from Britain, initiated the anti-sealing hunt movement. I find it somewhat ironic and completely hypocritical that this cull is done with the intention of preserving a food source.
On this topic, I feel it's important that government continue to conduct research on aquatic populations, and science-based approaches must be practised to ensure that an increasing seal population doesn't deplete cod, salmon, and shrimp populations in Canadian waters.
To close, I think it's extremely important that Canada support this bill to promote seal products and reverse the current negative mentality towards this market. Enacting national seal products day will reinforce Canada's support for its cultural coastal communities. Speaking on behalf of the people of Nunavut and as a person who is aware of the industry in eastern Canada, this recognition is extremely important. It will strengthen the relationship between Canada and Inuit. It can contribute to the revival of a much-needed source of income for the Inuvialuit and those who have relied on it on the east coast.
With that, thank you very much, and I look forward to your questions.