Canada now has an official day to celebrate the seal: May 20

National Seal Products Day Act passes House of Commons third reading


Ring seals lie on the dock in Qikiqtarjuaq.  (FILE PHOTO)

Ring seals lie on the dock in Qikiqtarjuaq. (FILE PHOTO)

Nunavummiut will have another reason to celebrate this coming May long weekend and it has nothing to do with Queen Victoria.

On May 5 Members of Parliament gave third reading to Senate Bill S-208 that declares May 20 National Seal Products Day.

“Unfortunately Canada’s seal hunt has been the target of very unfair and fraudulent campaigns by the animal rights movement,” said Tory MP Robert Sopuck, a rural Manitoban who made one of several impassioned speeches before the House voted overwhelmingly in favour of the seal products bill.

“It is clear that the sole purpose of these anti-sealing groups is to raise funds for themselves and the collateral damage to coastal communities has simply been staggering.”

According to the Hansard official transcript of the May 5 proceedings, Sopuck said he was on Southampton Island years ago and was able to participate in a walrus and seal hunt.

“I do know what it’s like to plunge one’s hand into a freshly killed walrus and experience the joy and exuberance of the hunt when one is successful… I have eaten raw seal, raw walrus, and I found the tastes interesting, to say the least. It can be good.”

The bill originated in the Senate thanks to Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette, who is now retired, and, in time, received gushing support from Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson.

Bills that begin in the Senate rarely pass successfully through the House of Commons so while National Seal Products Day is largely symbolic—it doesn’t create a statutory holiday—it is nonetheless significant.

Hervieux-Payette chose May 20 because the European Union had declared that day European Maritime Day, in order to recall, “the importance of a healthy marine environment both for the sustainability of economic activities on the seas and for the quality of life in coastal regions,” the bill’s preamble states.

Bill S-208 passed through the Senate in May 2016 and has been winding its way through the House of Commons and committee hearings since then.

Even though it was the last order of Parliamentary business May 5, five MPs spoke at length in favour of the Act: one NDP member, two Liberals and two Conservatives.

“We need to take a stand,” said Montreal NDP member Alexandre Boulerice.

“Creating a national seal products day would send a clear message to everyone, here in Canada, and in the European Union.”

Liberal MP Yvonne Jones, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, who hails from Labrador, offered personal stories of growing up around seal hunting

“It is a way of life for us still today as we eat seal and wear seal,” Jones said.

She credited her “colleague from Nunavut,” presumably Independent Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo, with speaking in the House about the importance of seal products to northern hunters and families, for food and for income.

“It has been a way of life for [Inuit], as harvesting, farming and fishing have been a way of life for anyone else in this country,” Jones said.

Following those speeches, the Hansard transcript of the vote says one MP voted against the bill but does not identify who that was.

When Bill S-208 went through second reading in the House of Commons, 283 MPs voted in favour and three MPs voted against: Toronto Liberal member Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Vancouver NDP member Don Davies and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

The National Seal Products Day Act becomes official law when it receives Royal Assent.

Coincidentally, it’s Sealing Day on the Hill this week in Ottawa and the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce is advertising various seal celebrations.

The Speaker of the House of Commons is hosting an invitation only Sealing Day on the Hill reception today, May 15. The National Arts Centre will then be the scene of a seal industry dinner hosted by MP Yvonne Jones, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs May 16.

The following evening, May 17, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami holds its annual A Taste of the Arctic Inuit food and culture event at the National Gallery of Canada.

At all the events, Nunavut sealskin designers will be showcasing their work.

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