Monday, May 06, 2013

Memo To Europe: No Seals, No Deals.

It was three years ago this very week that the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to ban the sale of seal products in the European Union. The move had nothing to do with wildlife conservation, marine ecological sustainability, or the prevention of cruelty to animals. The measure was explicitly intended to destroy a centuries-old sustainable industry, central to the economies of dozens of Atlantic and Arctic communities in Canada, all to protect "public morality" in Europe. Yes, you read that correctly.
A few days after the 2009 EU vote, in a touching gesture of solidarity with Canada's Inuit people, Governor-General Michaëlle Jean arrived in the Nunavut town of Rankin Inlet and proceeded immediately to an Inuit community festival where she gutted a freshly-slaughtered seal, pulled out its raw heart, and ate it. It was a graceful and splendid act of righteous defiance against what my friend Madeleine Redfern, an Inuk lawyer, a food-security activist and the former mayor of Iqaluit, properly calls a campaign animated by racism, a twisted form of cultural imperialism, and emotional blackmail.
Last month in Luxembourg the General Court of the European Union rejected a legal challenge against the ban led by the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. In this past weekend's Citizen I disclose the EU's pleadings from another, strangely-overlooked set of hearings that unfolded a few days ago before an adjudication panel of the World Trade Organization in Geneva. In that forum, Canada and Norway (probably in vain) are challenging the 2009 seal ban as a violation of international trade law, and what the EU's pleadings in that case show is that if anything, Redfern and other Inuit leaders have been rather understating the role that European ethnocentric weirdness and bigotry have played in the dispute. 
Specifically, Europe's legal case rests on a pseudo-religious conception of "public morality" articulated by a Church of England theology-of-vegetarianism eccentric by the name of "Professor Andrew Linzey" who holds an honorary divinity degree. Not to be harsh on other people's religions or anything, but the man is a witchdoctor. It is primarily from arguments arising out of Linzey's neo-Christianist mumbo-jumbo that the EU seeks to have the WTO allow its seal ban under the GATT Article XX (a) “public morals” exception. And fair enough. Europe's MEPs should be permitted to frolic in circles around whichever jack-druid they like. But can we at least please be honest with one another about what's really going on here?

Madeline Redfern counts 27 clauses of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that are violated by the coarse and vulgar subsistence-hunt “exception” the EU ban extends to Inuit and other aboriginal peoples. She counts a further 13 clauses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights offended by the spirit and in the letter of the EU seal regime. Redfern's case is convincing. 
So, what to do about such savage and backward European practices?
Karliin Aariak of Iqaluit, daughter of Nunavut Premier Eva Qamaniq Aariak, has a very good idea, which she sets out in detail here. For starters, Aariak drew up an old-fashioned paper petition that quickly garnered several hundred signatures, mostly from Inuit communities, calling upon Ottawa to oppose any European Union application for observer status in the circumpolar Arctic Council
Now, Aariak is circulating an online petition to be presented to the Arctic Council itself, requesting that the Arctic Council refuse all applications for observer status from the European Union and any of its member states, institutions, and organizations, "until such time as the European Union completely terminates and lifts the seal ban it imposed in 2009."
These are reasonable measures, and a good start. There are also draft provisions of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe that might warrant a look-see. The treaty is expected to be ready for ratification as early as this summer and there are already reasons why the whole thing might be a bad idea anyway.
You're welcome. 


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