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Saturday, March 21, 2009

From Today's Halifax Chronicle-Herald

The bus driver’s attack: A completely acceptable, harmless counter-protest

Ottawa Bureau

LAST SATURDAY, a Metro Transit driver stopped his bus and jumped out to disrupt an anti-seal-hunt protest at the corner of Spring Garden Road and South Park Street by pretending to beat a stuffed seal.

The driver has not been interviewed, but protest organizer Bridget Curran said he was trying to be funny.

"He obviously thought that it was quite funny to simulate an act of violence against a seal," she said.

It is quite funny, I think, the kind of offbeat news item that gave us a crucial smile in a week when the newspaper — and life — was full of grim economic news.

The driver, whom Metro Transit has suspended with pay, likely should not have abandoned his bus, but it is difficult not to be cheered by his display of impish humour if you, like me, are an instinctive supporter of the seal hunt.

But Ms. Curran, director of the Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition, said it’s "extremely alarming" that no charges have been laid against the driver.

"What the police are saying by not charging him is that it’s completely acceptable," she said.

I hope that’s what they’re saying, because it seems to me like a completely acceptable impromptu counter-protest, harmlessly making fun of the protesters.

This whole issue comes down to one question: whether or not you think it’s acceptable to club seals.

Like a lot of Atlantic Canadians, I think it’s an acceptable — even praiseworthy — part of our East Coast tradition of making a living from the sea, tied up in my mind, in a muddled, romantic way, with our beautiful fishing and seafaring traditions and my admiration of the stoic outport fishermen of Newfoundland.

Thus, for me, being in favour of the seal hunt is a question of loyalty.

For opponents, though, it’s plainly awful to use clubs to smash in the heads of juvenile seals, skin them and leave the bloody carcasses on the ice.

The people opposed to the hunt — many of them young women — are motivated by a real love of animals, a deep affection that is incomprehensible to me and that I think rests on flawed, anthropomorphic ideas about animals but that is deeply meaningful to them.

While some of them, like Clayton Ruby, are hypocrites who eat meat and wear leather while protesting the seal hunt, others are vegans, who believe it is wrong to kill animals.

You can disagree with them, but if they are willing to forgo strip loins for extruded wheat gluten, you can’t question their sincerity.

But you can question their accuracy. They are motivated exclusively by a desire to stop "sadistic baby-killers" — the words of activist Paul Watson after three sealers died during last year’s hunt.

Since they are protecting helpless babies against killers, activists therefore feel comfortable bending the truth.
For years they warned that the hunt was not sustainable. When those warnings started there were two million seals. Now there are 5.6 million.

They routinely use images of cute whitecoat seals in their fundraising, although we haven’t hunted whitecoats for 20 years.

The American Humane Society has been caught lying about the effectiveness of an American boycott of Canadian seafood, part of their effort to show that the hunt costs the Canadian government more than sealers make.

In this, in fact, they may in fact be right. The coast guard provides icebreaking service to sealers every year, at some considerable but unknown cost, and the plunging price of pelts means the industry is not the bonanza it once was.

But I don’t care, any more than the anti-sealing activists care about the fact that the herd poses a threat to fish stocks if left to grow unchecked.

I believe the hunt is ecologically sustainable and as humane, more or less, as farmyard practices, but if I were to learn that it does cause suffering to seals I still wouldn’t care very much.

Those of us on either side of the issue are immune to reason, because we support or oppose the hunt for emotional reasons.

The struggle is for the hearts and minds of people who don’t already have deeply held opinions and, on that front, foes of the hunt are winning, which may mean the hunt is doomed, since it depends on foreign markets that are vulnerable to public opinion.

In the 1970s, activists managed to persuade the United States to ban the import of seal products. Now, they are about to win a ban in the European Union. Even former KGB man Vladimir Putin has bowed to pressure to end the Russian seal hunt.

In Spain this week, where they routinely torture bulls to death for sport, several hundred Spaniards stripped down in the street and splashed themselves with fake blood to protest our seal hunt.

There have been about a dozen protests in Canada this year, and the hunt hasn’t even started.

The only pro-hunt demonstration was the impromptu act of a Halifax bus driver.

The sealers had better hope that the Chinese are slow to catch on to this animal rights business.

Web Talk Comment: It's too bad there aren't more "metro bus drivers" across Canada.

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