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Redfern challenges Greens

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 7, 2012

In a war of words about Canada's seal hunt, the latest battle occurred on Twitter when Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern faced off against Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May April 27.

The seven-hour Friday night debate started just before 5 p.m., and continued until almost midnight as Redfern called May to task over the party's anti-seal-hunt policy.

"I've read Green Party's whole seal hunt policy. It isn't about sustainability & relegates Inuit to poverty," Redfern wrote, noting a "healthy and sustainable" seal hunt is "what our 100-mile diet looks like in the Arctic."

In an interview with Nunavut News/North, May said the target of the party's policy is the commercial seal hunt off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, but acknowledged that Inuit seal hunt suffers by association.

"Right now, there's more federal money put into conducting the seal hunt in Atlantic Canada than there is in profits from the seal hunt in Atlantic Canada," May said. "And it's been that way for a long time. It's a very contentious and impossible-to-defend industry."

Speaking with Nunavut News/North, Redfern presented a defence.

"The Green Party policy on the seal hunt, which relegates the Inuit hunt to subsistence, is quite problematic and discriminatory," she said, noting the commercial Inuit hunt is constitutionally protected. "It relegates our hunt to that of poverty and to barely being able to meet our survival needs. Seven out of 10 Inuit preschool children are food insecure. The numbers of seals in Canadian waters and the amount that are being harvested have been deemed sustainable. These anti-seal-hunt campaigns have exacerbated food insecurity in our communities."

By opposing the seal hunt, the Greens are going against their own policies, she said.

"If the hunt is sustainable and we eat the meat, as we do here, and the (skin) is a by-product, there is nothing fundamentally ecologically unsound or goes against the principles of conservation or sustainability by being able to sell that by-product and use that income to support our families."

May contends Inuit will benefit from the demise of the Maritime hunt, recalling the way the Green Party opposed the commercial export of old-growth forestry products, but subsequently supported the creation of a sustainable indigenous commercial industry in the same forests.

"The European market as a bloc is very much against the (commercial) seal hunt," May said. "(That) could change if there were a different approach. Set a premium for a product that is sustainable, healthy, supports local communities. If a seal product were marketed as all of those things, environmentally-friendly and humane, you could put a premium on that as a niche market for people in Europe, who tend to be very prone to supporting aboriginal communities."

It's an unfair comparison, Redfern argues.

"There wasn't a demonizing of a culture, a people, a way of life," she said of the old-growth forest debate. "The animal rights groups have demonized the hunting culture. They tolerate no hunting or use of any animal product. (The Greens have) made no efforts to distinguish between the hunts. I'd rather stay away from making a needless distinction between the hunts because if they are sustainable, it's difficult to trust and believe that the Green Party and their membership, who are intent on ending harvesting, are going to now come and try to support and promote our hunt when they've destroyed the market."

Eager to engage with Redfern in person, May suggested the two should meet at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting next month in Saskatoon.

"You're not going to start market gardens in Nunavut, and I think there's some space there to start a dialogue," she told Nunavut News/North.

Agreeing to meet in Saskatoon, Redfern noted that she liked having an inclusive public debate. In the days before the one-on-one, Redfern had engaged with seal hunt protesters after she used the #sealhunt hashtag - a search term users can use to follow or participate in a conversation - to promote the hunt, instead of fighting the hunt as the hashtag creator intended. May joined the conversation after Redfern's husband Jae criticized the Green Party's policies against the hunt. Noting party policies are set by party members, she suggested the best way to change the policies was to join the party.

"Isn't that like telling visible minorities to join a supremacist group to get them to change their policies against them?!" Redfern tweeted. "Can you not see/understand that no one who has their way of life & livelihood attacked would not want to join your party?"

The results of their meeting should be interesting, and May promised to broadcast them over Twitter. In the meantime, the Senate is preparing to debate the idea of ending the seal hunt altogether. However, with government opposition for the idea, Liberal Senator Mac Harb's bill, which was seconded May 2, is not expected to pass.

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