Chinese citizen campaign puts Canadian seal trade on the agenda

Canada forced to justify trade in seal products after nationwide postcard campaign in China

The Canadian embassy in Beijing has been receiving a lot of mail lately, specifically around 100,000 postcards all with the same message. The postcards are in protest against Canada’s seal trade with China, and were sent by members of the public from more than 100 cities across China.

The postcard protest was initiated by Tao Bei, director-in-chief of the Blive Global Initiative. In April Blive sent an open letter to the Canadian Embassy calling for a boycott of China’s “peddling” of seal products.

Bans on seal products are in place in 30 countries or trading blocs, including the EU, the US and Russia. In January this year Taiwan, the fourth biggest importer of seal products, passed a law banning seal imports. Tao said that by sending seal products to China, and telling its own citizens that the Chinese welcome the trade, Canada is both deceiving its own citizens and openly and gravely insulting the moral standards of the Chinese.

After receiving the postcards the embassy published a reply on its website, expressing a willingness to talk. After two months of negotiations the two parties finally met on the afternoon of July 17.

The Canadian ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques stuck to his government’s usual stance on seal hunting and trading: it is carried out in line with internationally accepted principles of animal welfare, and controlling seal numbers helps maintain a healthy and sustainable ecosystem.

In 2012, there were about seven million Greenland seals in Canada – three times as many as during the 1970s. The government allows up to 400,000 Greenland seals to be killed annually, but only 90,000 are actually taken. “Because markets have been closed to seal products, the population is increasing, and this is having an ever-greater impact on the ecosystem,” said Saint-Jacques.

However, Guo Peng, a deputy professor at Shandong University’s School of Philosophy and Social Development, said the claim that seal-hunting is beneficial for sustainable development confuses temporary economic policies with sustainable conservation measures.

The Canadian embassy say seal hunting is a part of the culture of the Inuit, and the sale of seal products provides an important part of their income. “The Chinese people should have the same rights Canadians do to enjoy the high-quality and healthy products supplied by Canada’s hard-working seal hunters,” said Saint-Jacques.

But Zhang Hong, a biochemist and consultant to Global Village of Beijing, an environmental NGO, said that the seal products sold in China may be heavily contaminated with mercury, as the heavy metal accumulates in seals.

Tao Bei praised the embassy for having the courage to engage in an equal dialogue. But added, “We don’t want to just exchange views, we want to reach some degree of consensus on the issue.”

Feng Can are Zhu Cuiyu are interns at chinadialogue’s Beijing office.