Legal review process includes three days of hearings in Geneva, Switzerland
The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) final appeal body is taking a look at the decision to uphold a ban on the trade of seal products in the European Union (EU).
© File photo by Aaron Beswick/The Northern Pen
A crew member walks across the ice in front of the icebound ship Labrador Concept in the harbour in St. Anthony in this April 11, 2007 file photo.
Hearings are underway in Geneva today and are scheduled to run through March 19 for a case reviewing a panel decision released in November, upholding the seal product ban on moral grounds.
The hearings have drawn representatives for both pro and anti-hunt organizations from Canada.
“These discussions are a little bit different in that only arguments of legal interpretation can be made,” said Sheryl Fink with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Even so, she is in Geneva today and has submitted an amicus curiae - “friend of the court” - written briefing on the seal hunt and seal products, something the court may or may not choose to refer to.
“I think what’s happening here is, in a way, quite historic, regardless of what the outcome will be. This is the first time this public morality issue has really been challenged at the WTO, so we’re very interested in seeing how it all plays out,” she said early this afternoon, Newfoundland time.
“I don’t want to pre-judge the panel’s decision, but realistically ... we need to remember that Europe wasn’t a big market for seal products from Canada prior to the ban. It’s probably not going to be a large market for seal products no matter what happens here at the WTO.”
Fink said the IFAW is sending representatives to monitor the international court proceedings since the organization’s anti-seal hunt campaign is considered both a founding campaign for the group and a fundamental issue in the world of animal rights activism.
The Canadian Seal and Sealing Network are also represented today in Geneva.
According to a statement issued this morning, Dion Dakins, chair of the network and CEO of Carino Processing, has traveled to Switzerland for the hearings.
Dakins has alleged growth in seal populations between 1960 and 2010 are having a negative impact on local fish stocks, including recovery of cod stocks.
Yet the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans has explicitly stated harp seals eating cod has not been shown to be a significant factor in the recovery of cod numbers, with environmental conditions considered a more important consideration.
That said, “Canada has made significant progress addressing some of the concerns identified by the European Food Safety Authority report that led to the (seal products) ban,” Dakins states.
“New regulations and enforcement procedures ensure the highest degree of humane treatment. It’s time for Canada and Europe to work together to find mutually agreeable solutions to overabundant seal populations.”
The Canadian Seal and Sealing Network has also become a founding member of the new Trade Fairness Coalition, concerned with the WTO’s decision to uphold the EU ban on seal products’ trade based on moral grounds.
“Upholding the seal ban on moral grounds sets a dangerous precedent that could lead to trade bans affecting other sustainable-use industries,” said Aaju Peter, an Inuit lawyer and sealskin designer from Nunavut, in the same press release.
The Telegram has requested an interview with Dakins.
Meanwhile, according to Fink, the expectation is the WTO appeal body will release a decision at some point between April and June.