Skip to content
POFO - Standing Committee

Fisheries and Oceans


Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on 
Fisheries and Oceans

Issue 5 - Evidence - February 7, 2012

OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at 5:30 p.m. to study the management of the grey seal population off Canada's East Coast and to consider a draft budget.

Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: This is a meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

Before we get into hearing from our witnesses today, we would like to have a few moments of the committee's time. I have discussed this with most committee members, and I am sure we will all agree.

As all you know, a few weeks ago, on January 11, we lost a very important team member and friend. Senators, before hearing from our witnesses, I would like the committee to take a moment to pay tribute to Claude Emery, our parliamentary analyst.

I was, as I am sure many of you around the table were, shocked and saddened to hear of Claude's passing. When my office called to let me know, I simply could not believe the news.

I am the sixth chair of this committee; Claude has worked with all of the chairs of this committee in the past. Although I have been chair for only a short period of time, I quickly realized, when I joined this committee as a member a few years ago, that Claude was very knowledgeable, competent and certainly very appreciated by all members.

Claude was assigned to the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in 1986, the same year the committee was created. We believe he was probably the longest-serving analyst any committee has ever had.

Claude worked for the Library of Parliament for 27 years. Almost all of these were spent on matters related to fisheries. From lighthouses to the Canadian Coast Guard to fish quotas and habitat and much more, he has researched it all. Claude's unique talent to provide the committee with a steady hand can be seen in over 23 substantive reports.

From coast to coast to coast, he accompanied the committee in public hearings and fact-finding missions. For more trips than we can remember and more meetings in Ottawa than we can count, Claude was always there to provide advice.

Claude was always discreet but ever present in our work here. His passing leaves a big void in this place, especially for those who worked side by side with him for many long years. He will be dearly missed by us all, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and co-workers.

On a personal note, he was teaching me some French on the side because he told me that my Newfoundland and Labrador version of French was not all that good. We got along very well, and I was certainly very sad to hear the news. I would ask the deputy chair of our committee to say a few words. After that, if any committee member would like to make a comment, we will give you the opportunity to do so.

Senator Hubley: Like our chair, I too thought very highly of Claude Emery and will miss his professionalism and his passion. As our committee's Library of Parliament analyst, Claude was exceptional. His knowledge was vast, his analysis always astute and his manner friendly and helpful. Claude was a great researcher and writer. He put together wonderful reports that were articulate and insightful. He was full of facts and could recall details and examples from previous years' studies with ease. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Claude and have great respect for his talents and dedication. He was a great asset to this committee and will be truly missed. Thank you.

The Chair: Would other members of the committee like to pass a comment? Feel free to do so.

Senator MacDonald: I will not elaborate for too long, but I have been on this committee since I was appointed to the Senate. I think most people would recognize that when I came into this committee room, I always sat where Senator Cochrane is now, so I had Claude on my left hand. He was such a fount of information. He had so much knowledge of the committee. I was impressed that someone from Central Canada could know so much about the Atlantic fishery. He was such a great resource and a lovely guy, too, good-natured, level-headed and full of good advice. Whenever I was stuck for a good question, Claude would always provide me with one.

It was a real shock to hear of it. I was overseas when I heard. He will be terribly missed, and I very much regret his passing.

Senator Patterson: As a relatively new member of this committee, I did, nonetheless, have the opportunity to work closely with Claude Emery on our lighthouse report and to travel with him in connection with that work. I was shocked and saddened by his loss over the holidays. I communicated with some colleagues on the committee to share my feelings of sadness and loss. I know that our previous long-standing chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans will not mind — even though I have not asked his permission — my sharing the words he shared with me when I informed him of Claude's tragic death. Senator Bill Rompkey, probably the longest-serving chair of this committee, who retired last year, said of Claude, "He was almost indispensable. We would not have produced the reports we did without him. He was smart and conscientious and, importantly, had a prodigious corporate memory, which saved us from the abyss of historical inaccuracy. Where will we find another like him? He will be sorely missed."

I appreciate the opportunity to convey my condolences to his family, and I am glad we have on the record a tribute to this dedicated and extremely outstanding public servant.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Patterson. Great words. I would like to ask if senators would agree that a letter of condolence, on behalf of the committee, be sent to Claude's family and colleagues, along with the proceedings of this meeting today.

Some Hon. Senators: Absolutely.

The Chair: I also mentioned to members of the committee that, after we finish our business today, the staff have put together a short video in memory of Claude, his years working on the committee and his travels to here and there. We will be viewing it here, in the committee room, after the meeting, so I invite any members of the committee to stay and look at that.

I would like to introduce — maybe no stranger to some of you here — François Côté, who will be working with the committee on the study of the grey seals. I worked with François when I was Chair of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in the House of Commons. We have a bit of history here. Whether that will be good or bad, at the end of the day, for the committee, time will tell. François is a great resource, with a great background in fisheries and oceans issues. We look forward to working with him over the next little while. He is kind of in a temporary mode here, at present, to help us to facilitate the grey seal report. We welcome François.

It is my pleasure to welcome our witnesses to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. The committee is continuing its study of the management of the grey seal population off Canada's East Coast. We are looking forward today to hearing from senior officials of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade on the state of trade in seal products.

Before introducing the witnesses before us, I will take the opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Fabian Manning. I am a senator from Newfoundland and Labrador and chair of this committee. I would like to ask the members of the committee if they would take the time to introduce themselves.

Senator Cochrane: I am Senator Ethel Cochrane and I am from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Senator MacDonald: I am Michael MacDonald. I am a senator from Nova Scotia, from the Island of Cape Breton.

Senator Hubley: I am Libby Hubley from the province of Prince Edward Island.

Senator Patterson: I am Dennis Patterson. I represent Nunavut in the Senate.

Senator Harb: I am Mac Harb from Ontario.

Senator Hervieux-Payette: I am senator Hervieux-Payette, from the province of Quebec.

Senator Poirier: I am Rose-May Poirier from New Brunswick.

The Chair: Thank you. So that the committee is aware, we have other business to take care of this evening. We will set aside an hour for this part of the meeting.

I would ask the witnesses before us to introduce themselves and the department they represent. If you have any opening remarks, feel free to give them.


France Pégeot, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Good evening, senators, thank you for inviting us.


I am France Pégeot. I am the Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy, with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

On my left I have Morley Knight, Director General, Resource Management Directorate, also from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and to my right, Michael Pearson, Director General, International Affairs Directorate, from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

We are also joined by our colleague Kevin Thompson, Director, Government Procurement, Trade and Environment Division, from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

I understand you have expressed an interest in examining issues beyond grey seals and considering some of the international aspects concerning the seal industry. We are very pleased to be able to do this with you today.

To avoid any confusion in the remarks I will be making, I just want to make it clear that when we discuss international issues, and particularly exports, we are dealing primarily with harp seals because these are the products that are exported.

As with many commodities, access to international markets is important to Canada's seal industry. When we talk about exports, there are three primary harp seal product commodities that are exported: pelts, oil derived from the blubber, and meat. Oil has recently replaced pelts as the most valuable component traded internationally. Demand for meat has traditionally been low, but industry is interested in finding ways to continue to develop a market for it, including for the larger grey seals.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada works in close collaboration with other government departments to support the Canadian seafood industry, including the sealing industry, in seeking access to foreign markets. These partners include Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, as well as provinces and territories and other partners.

The role of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in the context of international issues with seals is to ensure that the harvest is conducted pursuant to Canadian regulation, that it is sustainable and is conducted humanely. We also directly support market access negotiations in collaboration with the agencies I have already mentioned.

Before getting into the specific areas that you have requested, I would like to underscore the work we do to ensure the sustainability and the humaneness of the harvest.


At the international level, scientific advice informs management decisions and our regulation of the seal harvest results from a transparent and inclusive peer reviewed process. We regularly invite international experts from foreign universities or foreign governments to participate in our process.


Canada works with scientists abroad to assess alternative methods and techniques, as well as herd populations through the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission and also jointly with the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. The significant actions taken by the Canadian government and the efforts of the sealing industry have placed the Canadian harvest on the cutting edge in terms of seals and sealing management, making it a model for other sealing nations.

In the early 2000s, considerable work was done to assess and improve the humaneness of the Canadian harvest. A group of international veterinarians, supported by the World Wildlife Fund, conducted a study that led to a series of recommendations for improvements to the harvest to ensure it was conducted in the most humane manner possible. The department took on these recommendations and made several changes to the way the harvest is conducted and regulated, including the implementation of what I would call the three-step process.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada works with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada and other departments so that Canadian seal products, which are derived from well-managed, humane and sustainable hunts, can access international markets and are treated in a manner consistent with international trade rules.

We also support the marketing initiatives of our colleagues at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and in the provincial and territorial governments, such as research and development projects, and in some cases medical research.

Most recently, we have been working to secure access to new markets for seal products. One market we are focusing on is China, where, in 2011, Canada initialled a cooperative arrangement that provides a mechanism for exporting edible seal products — oil and meat — to China. The technical aspects of inspection and certification have since been worked out between Canadian and Chinese officials. We are hoping that we will soon be able to implement that agreement. The Chinese are aware of the safety and quality of our seal products.

Canada believes that the European Union ban on the import and sale of seal products is inconsistent with its international trade obligations. This is why we initiated a World Trade Organization dispute settlement process.

By moving ahead with this challenge, Canada is reiterating its commitment to defend the Canadian sealing industry. Canada is also sending a clear message to the international community that Canada will actively challenge trade barriers that have no basis in scientific fact. Norway is also opposed to the European Union seal ban and has joined Canada as a co-complainant in this dispute.


While the European Union ban includes a limited exemption for Inuit and other indigenous communities, the process and requirements for Canadian Inuit to export seal products into the European Union remain unclear. In addition, Inuit groups have stated that past experience with the European Union's 1983 ban on seal pup skins has shown that allowing Inuit-derived products, while banning all others, does not work in terms of preserving a market for Inuit products, as the general ban effectively destroys the market for all seal products.


We are also aware that the customs unions of Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation have implemented, on January 1, 2012, trade restrictions on two specific seal products: raw and tanned harp seal pelts. We are currently assessing these restrictions and implications for our Canadian industry and have also voiced our deep concerns regarding this ban to Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.

As you are likely aware, on February 2, Seal Day on the Hill, federal, provincial and territorial representatives participated in several events to highlight their support for the seal harvest. This level of support is an indication of the importance attached to this issue by all levels of government. Departmental officials also provided a technical briefing on scientific and management aspects of the seal hunt to the media.

In closing, I want to underscore that the work done internationally is a collaborative effort at the federal level and with provinces and territories. We also work closely with industry. Our focus is on setting favourable conditions and removing market access barriers and ensuring that legally produced, sustainably managed and humanely harvested Canadian products can be bought and sold freely in an open market, consistent with international trade rules.

Senator Hubley: Thank you very much for your presentation this evening, and for your presence here.

You highlighted in your presentation the work that ACOA was doing. I wonder if you might elaborate for us if that has anything to do with the sealing industry.

Ms. Pégeot: We could eventually provide you with specific examples, unless my colleagues have some. I do know that ACOA has been supporting the sealing industry in their market development efforts, in the context of their grants and contributions program. They have provided support to the sealing industry in their various efforts in terms of research and development, and also in market and trade development with efforts to export. This is the responsibility of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and of regional development agencies within the federal government, to support those kinds of activities.

Senator Hubley: There are many different bodies working on the marketing of the seal products, and you mentioned ACOA. I was quite surprised and pleased to hear that. Thank you kindly.

Senator Poirier: Thank you for the presentation and for being here.

Both the Canadian fur association and the Canadian Sealers Association question the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' policy to issue observer permits to animal rights groups. The Canadian Sealers Association is of the opinion that the department issues observer permits too liberally to animal rights groups. They consider that the animal rights groups serve no practical purpose and are there for public relations reasons.

In addition, the sealers wonder why observation permits are issued specifically for the seal hunt and not other animals, like moose or deer. They also asked whether independent observers are assigned to boats operated by animal rights groups.

Could you comment on DFO's rationale for issuing permits to animal rights groups?

Ms. Pégeot: My colleague, Mr. Knight, will answer that question.

Morley Knight, Director General, Resource Management, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: It is a very complex issue and has evolved over a long period of time, dating as far back as the 1980s, when rules were put in place to govern access to areas around seal harvesting activities.

Regulations were put in place that said, for example, that no person shall approach within half a nautical mile from anyone conducting seal harvesting activities. Through the processes that unfolded over the years, restrictions were put in place then to allow observers, under stringent conditions, to observe the seal hunt. Those permits are issued to individuals who have demonstrated a desire to visit and observe what takes place in a seal hunt, on the condition that they not do things to disrupt the harvesting of the animals.

They are issued on a daily basis only. They can be renewed on a daily basis, but they do provide access for people who want to view the activities of the hunt. If people who are requesting the permits have been in violation of the Marine Mammal Regulations or have violated the conditions of their permit, they would not be issued a subsequent permit.

In the context of other harvesting activities for wild animals such as moose or deer, as an example, there are no restrictions around these activities that I am aware of, in terms of other people being able to observe it.

It is a very fine line of providing legitimate access but, at the same time, controlling the access in a manner that is appropriate for the conditions that exist in that environment, in an open ocean area where high-powered rifles are used. The activities have sometimes been played out in a manner that is not consistent with the government's objectives of having a well-managed and monitored hunt in an orderly fashion.

Senator Poirier: As a supplementary to my first so I do not lose my second question, you are explaining to me the process that is there and how it was put in place, but I am looking for an answer specifically, because it was raised by the sealer associations and different groups, of why they are allowed to go and why other hunts do not issue permits for people to go and watch.

Mr. Knight: In any other case that I am aware of, and I am a hunter myself for moose and big game, there are no restrictions in any jurisdiction in Canada that prohibits anyone from observing a moose hunt or a deer hunt, for example.

The conditions that existed around the seal harvesting activity, as I was describing, are fundamentally different. It is a commercial hunt and, as I described earlier without repeating myself, the conditions that evolved over time include restrictions to prohibit anyone from approaching within a half mile. They are fundamentally different. That is what is fundamentally different.

There is a prohibition on observing, but that prohibition can be lifted by authorized permit. Those prohibitions do not exist in other wild animal hunts that I am aware of.

Ms. Pégeot: If I may add, we have regulated the hunt so that it be conducted as humanely as possible. At the same time, by making it open and transparent we are also showing that we have nothing to hide. Therefore, we are convinced that this is a hunt that is legitimate, regulated and can be conducted. By not restricting access to it, although in a regulated manner, we are also showing transparency.

Senator Poirier: I just wanted an explanation of it on the record for the associations that have raised it.

The Sealers Association of the Magdalen Islands indicated that there is a discrepancy in the classification of what a seal is. By federal standards, a seal is classified as a fish, whereas in Quebec it is classified as meat product.

The difference in classification has practical implications respecting mercury levels and the sale of seal products across provincial boundaries, due to processing standards of meat and fish products. As a meat product, it must be processed at a meat processing plant, and vice versa. This is difficult in areas like the Magdalen Islands, which I believe lack a meat processing plant.

Could you comment on why there is a difference in classification between the federal and Quebec governments and why the term "marine mammal" is not used?

Mr. Knight: I am familiar with the issue. I do not think I can give you an answer as to why the provincial jurisdictions may vary across the country.

The term "marine mammal" is used in the regulations that Fisheries and Oceans Canada uses — the Marine Mammal Regulations made pursuant to the Fisheries Act. Seals under that legislation are classed as a marine mammal. Depending on the jurisdiction across the country, the provincial jurisdictions that regulate certain aspects of processing or marketing, then that could vary. I am unfortunately not in a position to be able to comment from province to province. I do not have the information

Ms. Pégeot: We could follow up with our colleagues at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, CFIA, who would have a better answer for that question.

The Chair: I will interject in relation to Senator Poirier's question. Prior to regulations being made in relation to observers, did we have a situation on the ice where sealers were being approached by the animal rights groups on the ice? Was the idea to develop a border, or at least an opportunity to be able to conduct the hunt in a safe and manageable way? So the regulations were brought in more for that than to give people an opportunity to go and be on the ice, if you follow what I am saying. Regulations began there and evolved from that. Am I correct?

Mr. Knight: That is accurate. My knowledge and information about that goes back as far as 1978 and maybe previous to that. There were groups and organizations that presented themselves in the environment where seal hunting was taking place. The activities that unfolded created a situation that was not orderly, not regulated, and likely created conditions that were unsafe both for the harvesters and for the people who were there with the intent to observe or disrupt the hunt. Therefore, during the 1980s and 1990s the regulations unfolded as I described earlier, creating the prohibition against being in an area where commercial sealing activity is taking place. It then evolved to a situation where permits, under strict controls, are issued.

The Chair: Thank you very much for that clarification.

Senator Harb: Thank you for your presentation.

I have a few questions to ask. I wanted to first ask you whether you are aware of a recent report that was just published in February by the Royal Society of Canada expert panel. On that panel there are a number of experts from Simon Fraser University, Laval University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Dalhousie University, University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, University of Washington, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the University of Victoria and so on. Did you have a chance to look at that report?

Ms. Pégeot: I am aware of the report. I went through it. I have not read it in detail yet, but I am certainly aware of the report and so are my colleagues.

Senator Harb: It is an extensive report and deals exactly with the issue before the committee: sustaining Canada's marine biodiversity and responding to the challenge posed by climate change, fisheries and aquaculture. It deals with the subject matter that this committee is looking at, in particular the concern about the fact that the cod stock is being depleted and the conclusion that someone believed the grey seals are eating the cod, therefore let us go after the seals.

Would you be surprised if I told you that the finding of this report was a damning one for the government, in a sense, when Professor Jeffrey Hutchings said that the government has failed to meet national and international commitments to sustain marine biodiversity over the years? I quote the professor where he said:

Twenty years after the collapse of the northern cod fishery, we don't have a target for a recovery. How is that possibly consistent with responsible management of our oceans?

It doesn't stand up nationally, it doesn't stand up internationally — but that is where we are, 20 years later.

That is a very damning conclusion of a panel of experts. To sum up what they have said, as a government — with all due respect to the administration — we have politically dropped the ball on the international scene. We are one of the only countries, according to the report, that do not have a mechanism in place to let the politicians know when they can open a market for fisheries and when they cannot.

In essence, they said here in the report — and I am hoping that you will have a chance to look at it — that although there was an act in 1996, it was never implemented. Part of the act was to look at when you can start the fishery over again.

They are saying, in essence, that when the fishery was opened back up so the fishermen can go and catch the cod, it should not have been opened then. However, the decision was to go ahead and open it up. They concluded that perhaps what is really killing the cod is the fact that we make decisions based on politics rather than on fact. They are calling for the government to set up a regulation. Therefore, we will remove the decisions from the political hand and put it in a scientific frame of mind.

This is so fundamental and so important.

The Chair: I know and all the other senators have important questions. We need to get to a question.

Senator Harb: I think it is very relevant to the subject matter, far more than talking about the harp seals.

The Chair: That is your opinion. Every senator has the right to ask a question. Get to your question and we will move on to something else.

Senator Harb: I suppose, if I am allowed, the question is do you agree that as a country we need to have a system in place that will take away the decision from the politicians and put it in the hands of those who really know best about what is happening to the ocean?

Ms. Pégeot: Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages the fisheries first of all, based on science. All the fisheries management decisions are informed by peer-reviewed scientific studies. We also consult with the various stakeholders that bring additional knowledge to the decisions that get made. We try to have a process that is first of all science- based, but at the same time is also inclusive and open. I am generalizing, but this is essentially how the fisheries management decisions get made.

My colleague Mr. Knight may want to add something. I want to reassure you that the current system takes into account scientific information that is peer-reviewed.

Mr. Knight: I will add to that by saying that as the processes unfold, of fisheries management regimes, there have been federal-provincial groups that have developed cod recovery plans for the various stocks. There are various opinions out there about the merits of those plans.

As we move forward into the last two or three years, we have been using the precautionary approach to develop limit reference points, for example, for when fisheries should be closed, when we are in a precautionary zone and should be harvesting at a precautionary level for both cod stocks and other stocks. We are moving in that same direction with the approach to how many seals we should be harvesting annually.

The processes are unfolding, and as my colleague pointed out, we consult regularly with the stakeholders in the industry and with the provincial governments on those things. We use that in conjunction with the science advice that we receive in terms of determining the harvest plans each year, but it is an evolving process, and I think we are making progress.

Senator Harb: I am trying to rationalize this. If that is so, your department's own website clearly stated in the past — and I hope it continues to say this — that seals do not only eat cod, they also eat other creatures that eat cod. Your own website stated that the system is very complex, that "seals and cod exist in a complex ecosystem," which mitigates against easy analysis or simple solutions to problems such as the lack of recovery of cod stock.

I am at a loss that our politicians still come to this committee and before Parliament trying to push the science that exists —

An Hon. Senator: Question.

Senator Harb: Well, colleagues, we either want to discuss this or not. Chair, with your permission —

The Chair: That is why we have witnesses here. Ask your question. I cannot control what someone else is saying.

Senator Harb: Thank you. You need to defend me, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: You can defend yourself. I will take care of it.

Senator Harb: I am somewhat at a loss that, despite all of this and all the different reports we are seeing over and over again, we have a situation where politicians wanted to slaughter 73,000 grey seals just because they think.

Senator Patterson: Which politicians are you referring to? Who?

Senator Harb: The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

Senator Patterson: I have never heard that said.

Senator Harb: Probably not.

The Chair: Order! Everyone will get an opportunity to ask a question.

Senator Patterson: You are making that up.

The Chair: Get to your question, please.

Senator Harb: I am supposing that it is very presumptuous on the part of the government to turn around and say, "Go and kill them, just in case, maybe, these grey seals are eating the cod."

The Chair: Would anyone like to comment?

Ms. Pégeot: In the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, there is now a peer-reviewed scientific link between grey seal predation on cod and lack of cod recovery. That is for this limited part of the ocean. Various options are available to the department in moving forward and managing the grey seal population. We will be having discussions with provinces, territories and others about the various approaches for that.

In terms of the specifics, it is premature for me to expand on this, but there is for sure now a peer-reviewed science that demonstrates the link between the predation by seals in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and cod recovery.


Senator Hervieux-Payette: Welcome to this committee. I have been involved for several years in the seal issue. So it is not by chance that I am wearing seal products. I am one of those who think that people who live in coastal areas have the right to earn a living in an honourable way, and that seal hunting is an honourable way to earn a living.

The destruction of seal hunting started in the United States. As a matter of fact, I sought the advice of counsel in New York City. There was a defamation campaign based on falsities, things were made up, and pictures more than 25- year old were used.

Did the department consider targeting the root of the problem? These people go on with their international campaign, they meet with Mr. Poutine, people in Europe and so on. They told their stories, but we did not challenge these stories with as much efficiency. They invest a lot of money. I am thinking now about the president of one of these organizations who earns $500,000 a year. I never met a single seal hunter earning as much money in a year.

These people, most of whom are vegetarian, are against the consumption of all meat. A series of decisions flows from that. They did not go after the pork or the beef lobbies, because they would have had to deal with tough opponents. They targeted the smallest group of meat and pelt producers in Canada. Incidentally, pelts were for a long time the main stay of Canadian exportations.

Did your department take a look at the legitimacy and legality of the misleading publicity around seal hunting and consider the ways it could counter this publicity?

Ms. Pégeot: Like I said in my opening remarks, our department supports seal hunting. We have a close cooperation with our embassies abroad, like the one in China, a country I visited with the minister just before Christmas. We had several discussions with the ambassador and his staff. Through the Department of Foreign Affairs, we are working with the embassies of other countries in Canada to make sure they get the right information and that they have a truthful information on the type of hunting we have in Canada and the way it is done.

Each time we get the opportunity, we make sure to explain how seal hunting is done in Canada and specify that it is as humane as possible, and that it is regulated. We try to challenge the statements put forward by these groups.

A great deal of work is being done through the governments which oftentimes will implement regulations against the importation of seal products, in this case. For the same reason, we lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization to counter the ban by the European Union of the importation of seal products, and we did it precisely because we wanted to make sure statements that are not scientifically based will not hinder the international trade of these products.

Senator Hervieux-Payette: Could we get detailed information on the progress on this issue? Quite a bit of time has passed since we lodged our complaint with the WTO.

Ms. Pégeot: Kevin could provide more specific information. The process is underway. Norway joined us as a co- complainant and is supporting our challenge.


Kevin Thompson, Director, Government Procurement, Trade and Environment Division, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada: Canada submitted a request to the World Trade Organization in March of 2011 to establish a panel. Shortly after that, Norway indicated that it wanted to join as a co-complainant in the dispute.

Over the last number of months, we have been working on some technical issues with Norway that delayed the process. We have also been working closely with industry to gather the necessary factual information to support the challenge against the European ban.

These processes take time. Unfortunately, there have been some delays as a result of the necessity to do additional research with our industry stakeholders. At this particular point, we are at the stage where we are seeking to establish or to compose the panel, selecting the panel members. It is difficult to predict how long that process will take, given that we are working closely with Norway. However, we anticipate that, if we are able to successfully get the information we need from Canadian industry, we will be able to proceed with the case in relatively short order.

Senator Hervieux-Payette: I will ask wider questions. Since we are negotiating now the Canada-EU trade treaty, does this question stand in the way? How much it could slow down the process with the World Trade Organization? In your best assessment, do you think this case could be heard before the end of this year?

Mr. Thompson: First of all, I think the government very much believes that a successful comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union holds great potential to create opportunities and jobs here in Canada, through increased trade investment with the European Union.

As with any bilateral trading relationship, there will always be issues upon which the two trading partners will differ.

Canada and the European Union very much believe these disagreements should not impede the overall objective of a successful conclusion of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, CETA.

It is difficult to say when the negotiations with the Europeans will conclude. At this point, it is difficult to envision the conclusion of the WTO case within the next six to eight months.

Senator Hervieux-Payette: This year?

Mr. Thompson: This year.

Once a panel has been composed, it can take up to six to nine months for the panel to issue its decision. Thereafter, there is an opportunity for appeal, and a lot of cases that deal with similar types of politically sensitive issues are invariably appealed. The time frame involved could be upwards of over a year. I am not at liberty to say when the CETA negotiations with the Europeans are expected to conclude, so it is a bit difficult to answer your question of whether there will be a coincidence of timing.

Senator Hervieux-Payette: Do you, or do other departments, sponsor research about seal meat? If we look at the shark fin being a very valuable thing that everyone wants to have and, of course, destroying fish to a great extent, I think we have to explore all the potential. There is no cholesterol in that animal. It is red meat and protein and could be marketed in a very intelligent way. You cannot eat that every day, as there is a lot of iron in that meat, but, at the same time, it is useful for people suffering from a lack of iron in their blood.

Have you conducted, or are there other departments conducting, research about the use of the meat from the seals?

Ms. Pégeot: This would not be the responsibility of Fisheries and Oceans, so we are not doing that. I am not aware of other departments doing that.

Senator Hervieux-Payette: May I suggest that you suggest it?

Mr. Knight: Over the years, including in recent years, a number of provinces, including Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec, to the best of the information I have, have done a lot of work on product and market development. They are looking at things that you were just outlining in terms of the most practical and applicable uses for seal meat, including using it in the production of different products such as sausages and salami and things like that. A lot of work has been done, and I think a lot of work could still be done. I think the provinces, given their mandates, are continuing to invest in that, and it may result in some successful outcomes at some point in the future. At this point, it has not resulted in a significant opportunity for seal product marketing.

Senator Hervieux-Payette: Thank you.

Senator Cochrane: The grey seal oil capsules are very good at controlling many of the problems that people have. It has been proven because we have had several people admit publicly that it has really helped them. I personally think that the capsules are fabulous because my husband takes them every single day, and he swears by them.

Senator Hervieux-Payette: I do the same.

Senator Cochrane: A great message should be put out there about those things because people are taking other vitamins that are not as effective as the seal oil capsules.

My question is on the recent Russian ban on the raw and the tan harp seal pelts.

What impact is this going to have on our Canadian seal industry? Do we have any idea yet since it was only a month ago that this ban was announced?

Michael Pearson, Director General, International Affairs, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Thank you for the question. I am always pleased to have this opportunity. Indeed, this is my first opportunity to be in front of a Senate committee, having had a mother who spent 10 years in the Senate and, in her time there, spent a lot of time on specific issues that she was interested in following. She used to tell me how hard-working and effective senators are in the various activities they are engaged in. I have to admit that, before that time, I was not sure what I thought about the Senate, but I learned from her about how valuable you all are. I am very pleased to appear before a group of senators.

On the question of Russia, this development was a great surprise to us. The Russians did not give us any advanced notice that they were doing this; they did not indicate any concerns about exports of products to their country in previous years. We only found out by accident that they were even pursuing this ban, which is focused on harp seals and their pelt products.

We have been talking with industry about the potential impact on them, and it is not insignificant. However, as you said, senator, it is only been a month since the ban came into force. We are still working very hard, in cooperation with our colleagues from Foreign Affairs and our embassy in Moscow, to seek clarification from Russian authorities on the reasons for this ban, the nature of this ban, the rationale for this ban and whether or not they may wish to reconsider it in light of information we can provide them with respect to the nature of the harvest.

We believe it is similar to actions that have been taken in other places based on misinformation and a lack of knowledge about how the harvest is done in Canada and how the products are developed and created for the international marketplace.

We do not know yet. As you may know, there will be a presidential election in Russia, in a month's time. As in any electoral process, decision making seems to slow down before elections happen. We have been pursuing this actively. Our Minister of International Trade has written to the former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia seeking further clarification on this. The deputy was in charge of bilateral relations with Canada. He was here last June and met with, among others, our minister.

We know that the Russians value their relationship with Canada more generally. We are not sure that they would want to pursue this at the expense of other aspects of the relationship, but we do not know. We do not know for sure what is behind it, and we are seeking more information on that and working closely with industry to determine what impact it may have on them both in the short and the longer term.

Senator Cochrane: They may remain our friends, but they just did it a month ago. We will challenge it, will we not?

Mr. Pearson: We are in a dialogue with the Russians now and were even before the ban came into effect. Before Christmas, we were engaged on this with Russian colleagues. Our colleagues from Foreign Affairs were doing so in Moscow, and we continue to do so.

What other actions we may need to take is still under consideration, based on, first and foremost, trying to get to the bottom of the basis for the Russian decision and determining whether there might be some basis for having that decision reconsidered.

Senator Cochrane: You mentioned that we have negotiations with China and that they look promising. The Prime Minister is there at this time. Will he bring up the seal product issue? Do you have any idea?

Ms. Pégeot: Yes, I think that is on the record, that he intends to raise the seal issue with China. We have been raising it on a continuous basis since we entered into this agreement with China.

Mr. Ashfield, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, was in China in the fall and raised it himself. We know that our embassy there has consistently raised the issue. We are also working through our colleagues at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada and talking to the Chinese embassy in Canada to ensure they understand all the facts. The technical issues have been resolved between CFIA and their equivalent in Russia. They understand that the products, the seal meat and oil, are good. They could be sent there. We are hoping that in the near future China will decide to open its markets to seal products.

Senator Cochrane: That is good because China is, of course, very valuable in the world economy.

Ms. Pégeot: Yes, and we know there is a market there. There are Chinese seal importers that are interested in buying the products.

Senator Patterson: I do not believe this is the place to make a speech, but I do want to take a moment to denounce Senator Harb for suggesting that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for Canada has called for a cull of seals. That is wrong. The truth is that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has asked this committee to study the topic of grey seals. Departmental officials who appeared before the committee are on record as saying the department is not at the stage of elaborating a program response to carry out a removal or reduction and that it would be highly desirable if a market was available to allow for a hunt to take place.

This is the kind of hysteria that is a fundraising tactic and has generated anxiety among animal welfare groups, who have been flooding us with emails about this so-called "plan to cull." I am disappointed that Senator Harb would use his privileged position as an ex officio member of this committee to propagate such hysteria and lies.

You have talked about Norway being an ally as a member of the EU that has a sealing industry and supports our cause. I heard the Norwegian ambassador speak about this solidarity with Canada at the Northern Lights conference this past weekend. I understand there is a Nordic council on marine mammals — I may have the title wrong; it is a council of Nordic countries that discusses the sustainable development of marine mammal harvesting. Has Canada considered participating in that body? I understand from the Norwegian ambassador that Canada has so far not agreed to participate. It seems to me a useful vehicle, perhaps along with the Arctic Council, where Canada could find allies in a common cause like promoting a sustainable seal fishery.

Mr. Pearson: Indeed, we have been reviewing the question of Canada's participation in that organization, NAMMCO, the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission. We are now an observer at that organization and go every year to its annual meetings. In addition, we have participated regularly on the scientific committee of NAMMCO, which, among other things, has looked at seal issues. They do also have a seals and walrus committee, and we in our observer role have participated in the discussions of that committee as well.

The question remaining now is whether we should join as a full member. The department has in the last year consulted widely with provinces and territories, as well as with a number of other interested players, in particular our northern Aboriginal peoples, regarding potential changes in Canada's participation in this organization. There has been in general a significant degree of support for a potentially increased role for Canada in this organization. The question now remains from the standpoint of our overall international activities and our ability to participate from a financial standpoint and others; as is the case in any organization, there are dues you have to pay to be a part of it. Our department, like everywhere else, has its own financial situation to manage.

Therefore, a decision will still have to be made on the basis of the substantive merits of a changed role vis-à-vis what we are able to accomplish with our existing role in NAMMCO and also other considerations such as financial. The minister will make a decision in due course.

Senator Patterson: Thank you for that. We are facing a very well funded lobby that is using emotion and misinformation to successfully undermine our renewable resource economy. I believe that Canada needs a comprehensive strategy to support the development of a sustainable industry around sealing.

There seems to be some confusion amongst NGOs who are active in this field. Who is the lead department on this sealing issue and the international pressures that we are facing? We saw it in Europe; we are seeing it in Russia. The problem is on many fronts, including China. Who is the lead department in this international aspect of the seal issue?

Ms. Pégeot: We work collaboratively on various issues, depending on the various responsibilities of our departments. For example, when it comes to market development, the lead is Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Within Fisheries and Oceans, we take the lead on market access issues but in very close collaboration with our colleagues from Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Of course, we are also responsible for regulating the hunt and doing the management of the fisheries.

Our colleagues at Foreign Affairs and International Trade are the key interlocutors with foreign governments and in the trade negotiations as well that are broader, such as the EU trade agreement, for example.

Senator Patterson: I think you are saying DFO is the lead, depending on the subject.

Ms. Pégeot: We probably have close linkages with the industry for sure, more than our colleagues. However, at the same time, we work collaboratively given our respective mandates. Depending on what the issue is, we can say yes, we take the lead, but on the Russian issue, for example, the lead is Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Senator Patterson: Could we get a quick summary of the status of the World Trade Organization challenge? Was the federal government aware of the Inuit challenge made in Europe, the challenge made by Inuit Tapiriit of Canada? Was consideration given to supporting the Inuit or joining with the Inuit in that challenge in another forum, which was the European Court?

Ms. Pégeot: This one is clearly for my colleague from Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Mr. Thompson: Yes. In terms of the WTO challenge and an update on that challenge, I addressed that question earlier. Is there more information specifically about the status of that challenge that you would like?

Senator Patterson: I am just wondering where we are going next and what the time frame is, please.

Mr. Thompson: In terms of where we are going next, the next stage is to compose the WTO panel. That involves the selection of panelists, and once the panel has been selected they will determine its working procedures and a time line for proceeding.

There has been some delay over the last number of months, as we have been attempting to work very closely with Norway. We felt that it is to our advantage to ensure that we are working in parallel, that we have essentially joined the two proceedings, the two challenges, both Canada's challenge as well as Norway's. That has taken some time.

We are also in the process of finalizing the development or the gathering of the necessary statistical and factual information in order to support the arguments that we are making.

Our request for a dispute settlement panel sets out very specifically the grounds on which we are challenging the European ban, and that information is publicly available. It is on the WTO website. Essentially, we are making an allegation that the ban violates so-called national treatment obligations under the GATT 1994, and we are also challenging the ban under what is called The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade that sets out obligations in relation to measures that create an unnecessary obstacle to international trade.

Like any case that Canada pursues before the World Trade Organization, our legal submissions are kept confidential until they are submitted to the tribunal. After that point, once we exclude any confidential business information, those submissions will be available to the public upon request.

In terms of the time frame going forward, I cannot provide you with a specific time frame, but we have made some fairly good progress over the last couple of months. In collaboration with our colleagues from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and with industry stakeholders, we hope to proceed relatively quickly.

Mr. Pearson: With respect to the senator's question about Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, ITK, we indeed have been aware of their parallel effort to take this case to the European Court of Justice, I believe. Mary Simon, as head of the ITK, has been in discussions with us. She met a little under a year ago with our former minister, Minister Shea, on this matter. We are working very closely with Foreign Affairs and International Trade in being kept informed about Ms. Simon and ITK's efforts and with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. I think the latter has provided financial support to the case.

It is a parallel activity, and the Government of Canada is not participating actively in that case. It is a parallel effort being taken on by the ITK, but we have provided a little bit of financial support to the costs of their effort in that regard.

We do know that the outcome of that case clearly might have an impact on how our case will unfold.

Senator Patterson: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Patterson. Before I get to Senator MacDonald, with the knowledge you have, we are planning a trip to the East Coast in short order, and we have been debating on a time to go so we can maybe observe the grey seal herd. Could someone suggest to us, as a committee, a good time to travel and some possible locations where we could have a look?

Ms. Pégeot: We would be pleased to assist the committee in the planning of its trip, no problem. Were you expecting an answer now?

The Chair: If you can give us some ideas or suggestions.

Ms. Pégeot: Mr. Knight can. If there is any follow-up, we can discuss with our regional directors, who can also help with that.

Mr. Knight: I will start by saying there probably will not be a lot of grey seal harvesting activities taking place. That is the indication we have right now, even though seals and quotas are available. Market conditions are such that it is unlikely much harvesting activity will be taking place.

There are a number of areas around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where grey seals can be seen, but because they move around from one week to the next, the location may change.

We have tried to explore where it might be most logistically possible. I talked to some of our regional people in the gulf region today, and I am told that the Toney River area of Nova Scotia might be one of the most practical areas. Of course, there are other areas such as Hay Island or Pictou Island. In both cases those islands lie somewhat offshore, and they are more logistically challenging to get to. It would require a vessel. Of course, when you consider travel by vessel at this time of year, it is winter and it is the Atlantic Ocean, so those are considerations you may want to look at when you make your trip there.

As was suggested, when you have a more firm timeline we would be able to give you more information at that time about where the most practical area to see seals would be, at least to see some. The greater quantities might be available in a place like Pictou Island. I have been there, but I believe it lies about five miles offshore. It might be a little more logistically difficult to get to than somewhere where you can drive down to an area and see the size of the grey seals on the beach from a car.

When you are ready to travel, we will be ready to provide up-to-date information at that time, based on local conditions.

The Chair: I appreciate that. I am sure the clerk will be in touch with you when the information is needed.

I have two senators, Senator Poirier and Senator Harb, who have placed their names on a second round. I do not believe at this point we will have an opportunity for a second round. We will finish up with Senator MacDonald and see how things go.

Senator MacDonald: Thank you. I would like to go back to the WTO panel, if I may. We have put in a second request, and under the rules of the WTO they have to strike a panel.

How do we determine who sits on this panel? What criteria do you use in making it up?

Mr. Thompson: Typically, the WTO secretariat provides a list of potential panelists. Then the parties to the dispute provide their comments on those panelists.

Senator MacDonald: Can we challenge these lists?

Mr. Thompson: We certainly can. In fact, a party can object to the naming of a particular panelist, and then the WTO secretariat typically removes their name from consideration.

You can see that this process could go on indefinitely, but the WTO secretariat does endeavour to try to develop some consensus on behalf of the parties. I confess, I cannot remember precisely what the time frame is, but if, after a particular period of time, the parties are unable to reach a consensus, a request can be made to the WTO secretariat to appoint a panel.

There was a first round of panel selection, and some of the names were objected to by some of the parties. I really should not get into the details of that selection process because it is a confidential one.

Senator MacDonald: Did we object to anyone?

Mr. Thompson: Actually, I am going to have to reserve on that question because I am not entirely certain whether it was Canada or the European Union. Can we get back to you on that particular issue?

Senator MacDonald: Certainly, but I think the makeup of this panel is obviously very important.

Mr. Thompson: Precisely. Yes.

Senator MacDonald: It can almost predetermine whether we will get a fair or balanced hearing.

Mr. Thompson: It is a very significant challenge, in the establishment of these panels, to ensure you have panelists who have the requisite expertise in international trade law and the application of international trade obligations but also have expertise in the particular subject matter that the panel is engaged in.

The WTO secretariat, along with the parties, tries to strive to get a balance of the necessary expertise as well, to try to ensure that the panel members are impartial and will deliver an impartial ruling. That can often be difficult in certain situations, but we are optimistic that in this situation we will have a set of panelists who will be able to deliver a fair and impartial determination.

Senator MacDonald: I have a question on the grey seals: We know that the grey seal population off Nova Scotia has gone from 12,000 to 15,000 in the past half century to over 400,000. I know it impacts all of the East Coast, but I think it is fair to say it impacts Nova Scotia and the fish stock there more than any. Now we are told this seal population is extending back down to Northern U.S. waters. I am curious about whether we have received feedback from the fisheries people or the industry in the U.S. regarding their grey seal population. Are they looking at doing anything to reduce the numbers? Have they made any statement about this?

Mr. Knight: What I am aware of is that, as you pointed out, the grey seal population has increased dramatically in recent years. It is close to, or at, an all-time high.

We have received some feedback from our American colleagues about the presence of harp seals. I am not personally aware about the presence of grey seals. However, I am aware that because of the expansion of the size of the grey seal population, it has expanded its habitat. There is no doubt about that. For example, in western and northern Newfoundland, grey seals that are normally not found in large quantities there have expanded to that area. They are more numerous in areas we have talked about like Hay Island, Pictou Island and Sable Island. It is a natural phenomenon. When a population grows to that level, it expands its habitat and moves out to other areas to search for suitable habitat and food. It is quite likely, given the proximity of our colleagues in the U.S. and their territory, that the seals from places like Sable Island would certainly be found in that habitat as well.

Senator MacDonald: Mr. Knight, you said you were a big game hunter.

Mr. Knight: I am.

Senator MacDonald: My father and brother hunt; I do not, but I do not think there is anything wrong with it. I wonder how many animals that are hunted by rifle are killed or wounded, stagger off in the underbrush, and suffer for 12 to 24 hours. I would say it is a substantial percentage. Would you agree with that?

Mr. Knight: In the sealing industry, we call that shot and loss. It is difficult to determine.

Senator MacDonald: My point is that when it comes to reducing seals, there is no such thing as an animal wandering off and suffering for 36 hours. These animals are dispatched relatively quickly. It is about a 100 percent kill rate, one would assume. Why do we continually lose the PR battle with Europe? What is wrong with our approach to this?

Mr. Knight: That is a very difficult question, why we lose the battle. Our strategy is to provide factual information about humane killing methods. We have engaged, for example, an international panel of veterinarians on the practices and methods. They have studied the methods for dispatching seals. They have studied the issue you raised of shot and loss. They have determined that in the seal harvest, a small percentage of that occurs as well. It is probably easier to determine in a place like a seal harvest, where it is a much more controlled environment than the other environments that you have alluded to as well, in terms of big game hunts.

The international panel of veterinarians that studied those issues found that the great majority of seals are dispatched in a humane process. They have made their public statements on that. I will conclude by saying that the Government of Canada's strategy is, to the fullest extent possible, to present the facts.

Senator MacDonald: Let me conclude with this: I do not think it is good policy to let people out there observe these hunts. You mentioned they do not go out to observe private hunts, although maybe hunting for whitetail deer they could go on a hunt if they wanted, but no one seems interested in observing those. It is bad policy. I think we should review it. These animals do not eat plankton. They eat the belly out of the cod fish and that is it; they do not eat the whole fish. They are swarming all over our coast, and the cod stock has been arrested now, flatlining for 20-some years. People at home in the industry know it must be done. I leave those thoughts with you and your panel.

We are concentrating on finding a market for this product, and I hope we do secure a permanent market, but even if we cannot, we are getting to go the point where these animals have to be culled, cut open, and floated to the bottom to be, unfortunately, no more than just food for lobsters and crab. We are almost to that point now. It is nice to find markets, but markets or not, we have to deal with a huge overpopulation of grey seals on the coast of Nova Scotia.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator MacDonald. I want to thank our witnesses. We have done a full round and we have gone 15 minutes beyond our allotted time.

Senator Harb: Point of order. In fairness to my colleague, he said that perhaps some people are promoting lies about the minister not being in support of the grey seal cull. If so, I will take that at face value. I am presuming my colleague knows that the minister is not in support of the grey seal cull, but for the record I wanted to point out that there were a number of reports done back in 2009-10 to do specifically that; kill grey seals. If the minister is not supportive of the cull, I think this is his time to clarify that to the Canadian public and the international community.

The Chair: We will have a difference of opinion for sure here, and I think we will have that on an ongoing basis. We look forward to our debates.

I would like to thank the witnesses for the great information you have provided this evening. It was an excellent opportunity for the members of the committee to see the workings of the department and what you are doing on this file. We certainly reserve the right at some time in the future to call you back if we need clarification or anything else as our study goes forward. Thank you on behalf of the committee for your appearance here.

(The committee continued in camera.)

(The committee resumed in public.)

The Chair: Senators, we have been discussing the budget for an upcoming travel plan to Nova Scotia to extend our hearings and, hopefully, have a site visit. We are looking at some time in March of this year. We are looking at a total budget of $103,560.

To give you a breakdown of what we are proposing, we have professional and other services for $7,480; transportation and communication, $70,330; and all other expenditures would total $25,750, for a total of $103,560.

Senators, we have agreed that this budget is for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012. Could we now entertain a motion to adopt the budget as presented?

Senator Patterson: So moved.

The Chair: Seconder for the motion?

Senator Poirier: I so move.

The Chair: The adoption will be submitted to the Internal Economy Committee.

All those in favour?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Contra-minded? Carried.

(The committee adjourned.)

Back to top