Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Icy Battleground: Canada, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Seal Hunt

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Icy Battleground: Canada, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Seal Hunt

Article excerpt

D. Barry, Icy Battleground: Canada, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Seal Hunt (St John's: Breakwater Books, 2005), ix + 170pp. Paper. $19.95. ISBN 1-55081- 211-4.

In 1934 Abram Kean, master of a Newfoundland sealer, sailed into St John's to a hero's welcome. His arrival was celebrated for one simple reason: he had just become the first man to have killed a million seals. A generation later, such a celebration was becoming unthinkable. It says much about the emotions generated by the hunting of seals in eastern Canada that a book that concentrates on events between the late 1960s and the 1990s should be so topical today. Donald Barry's concise but detailed account of the history and the politics of the period are very familiar to the contemporary reader.

Barry is a political scientist, which accounts for his emphasis on the role and tactics of pressure groups, especially the International Fund for Animal Welfare, in the fight to change the attitudes of governments and people towards what had previously been seen as an integral part of the economy and culture of Atlantic Canada, particularly in Newfoundland: the annual culling of seals. Thus Barry's narrative tells of two conflicting forces: those who were determined to end what they regarded as a barbaric practice, and those who saw it as part of a long-established way of life. In between was a somewhat hapless Canadian government, needing to defend its people's interests but also conscious of its reputation and international standing.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare and other activist groups were always able to set the agenda, which meant that the Canadian government had to react to its every move. As Barry points out, one of their most telling weapons was the use of magazine pictures and television images of the seal hunt. These had an immediate impact on the public, with their dramatic contrasts of white snow, red blood and men in dark clothes. These images were a gift to the anti-sealing groups and the fact that most of the seals being killed were pups meant that there could never be a rational, unemotional debate about the exercise. The pictures were largely targeted at a northern European audience, with the IFAW allocating a million pounds to its campaign to influence the British public and British companies; and it worked. …

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