Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mac fights to keep Harb Seal Bill from being iced

Mingling after his speech in Vancouver, Mac Harb stops to talk to Jason Windtalker, an aboriginal who is appalled by the reckless slaughter of innocent marine mammals.

If they are to survive public life, career politicians must grow a hard shell.

But even 25 years in politics didn't prepare Senator Mac Harb for the backlash he endured from his peers when he introduced a private members' bill on March 3. It proposed to end the massive annual slaughter of baby seals on Atlantic Canada's ice floes.

"I've never been abused so much in my life as when I introduced this bill," said Harb, who spoke to citizens this past Sunday at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

One senator -- former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell -- has even taken to giving Harb a hand signal when they cross paths on Parliament Hill.

And it isn't exactly a thumbs-up.

Campbell twirls his finger around in a circle near his ear, inferring that Harb is crazy.

In an unprecedented show of disrespect, not one of Canada's 105 senators would second the Harb Seal Bill. A second motion is all that's required to allow Harb to speak about his bill in Parliament.

"If I couldn't find one [senator] with the courage to do that, then I had to take it back to the public," he said.

Harb is the first Canadian politician in history to officially propose an end to the annual seal slaughter. He first became interested in the issue from his experience traveling on trade delegations. He faced people around the world who viewed the killing of baby harp seals with repulsion and horror. And he watched millions being spent by the Canadian government to promote and support a dying industry in the face of worldwide opposition.

"We still call it a hunt," Harb said. "Frankly it's not a hunt at all. They can't walk, can't swim, can't fly. These are babies. Give them a fair shake. This is not a hunt. It's a slaughter."

Despite the ridicule he faces from fellow politicians, Harb isn't deterred from his mission. He's pressing ahead with gusto.

"The government is on the wrong side," Harb said. "They have developed a mental block on the issue. They just don't want to hear about it."

Harb says fear of losing Atlantic Canada's votes -- largely a region galvanized by the fishing industry -- has caused politicians to shy away from ending the slaughter once and for all. That logic doesn't make sense when it's settled against public opinion. While Harb's fellow politicians aren't giving him props, the public certainly is. Forget about being called crazy. "Hero" is the word being bandied about by animal lovers. Not a word typically used to describe politicians.

In all, a whopping 518,000 Canadians have called, written, or emailed Harb's office since he launched his campaign. They've sent letters of support, petitions, and words of encouragement. That's an impressive number in a country with a population of 30 million.

Harb is bringing the letters by the wheelbarrow load to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office.

"We are going to see the beginning of the end of the commercial seal hunt," he declared.

The government computer system has been overwhelmed by the response from the public. Half of the Senate computers -- about fifty of them -- crashed as emails flooded in supporting the Harb Seal Bill. And the servers that handle internet traffic for the Senate and the House of Commons have crashed twice. Kids as young as four years old have written to Harb begging him to keep fighting for the seals.

"When the Government of Canada's computer system can't take the emails from the people, Parliament has to take note of that," Harb said.

As a Canadian, I am stunned by how out of step politicians are with the will of the people on this issue. Polls estimate that 80 percent of Canadians oppose the seal hunt. The exercise in government-subsidized cruelty churns the stomachs of most of us. And the barbaric annual ritual bloodies our public image worldwide.

Harb doesn't call himself an animal activist. He's not even a vegetarian. But he still "cannot understand for the life of me what the rationale is."

"How silly we are to allow this to continue. A loving, kind nation, and now we're killing baby seals," Harb told listeners, who at times gasped in shock as gruesome footage of the carnage on ice was screened. "I have letters from tourists who don't want to come here because all they think about is the seal hunt. It doesn't mesh well with the Canadian image."

The cruelty footage that played out on screen at Harb's event -- which was sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) -- left me breathless. I've viewed the worst: puppy mills, torture, dog fighting. Still, I've never seen cruelty that rivaled this.

Despite his official stripes, Harb hasn't been given any professional courtesy. When he traveled to Eastern Canada this year, the government wouldn't even direct him to the site where the bloodbath on ice was occurring, despite its claims that peaceful observers are welcome. Yet elite government ice-breakers costing taxpayers $50,000 per day escort the seal killers to the places where the pups are innocently learning to swim and feed themselves.

Harb had to spend three and a half hours flying around in a helicopter with IFAW looking for the slaughter site before he found it.

"The government could have told me as a senator, as a courtesy," Harb said. "There are a lot more horrifying photos and videos than what you just saw. These images are the tip of the iceberg."


Click on these links to get involved.

International Fund for Animal Welfare

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