WASHINGTON-Campaigners leading a global effort against the Canadian seal hunt believe they have stumbled across a secret weapon that could bring Ottawa to heel - a letter of outrage from Barack Obama that condemns the annual cull as "inhumane."
The newly disclosed letter, written in April 2006, when Obama was a rookie senator from Illinois, leaves no doubt where he stands on the issue. In pointed language, he promises an unnamed constituent he will work with colleagues "to ensure that we take all the necessary steps to express our outrage" to the Canadian government.
"I share your concerns about the Canadian seal hunt," wrote Obama, who has not spoken publicly on the issue since he became president in January.
"As you know, Canada annually opens its eastern waters to commercial seal hunting. The United States and European Union have been unified in their opposition to the slaughter of seals by passing legislation decades ago to restrict the sale of seal-based products within their borders," Obama wrote.
"I certainly believe in the spirit of these acts; the U.S. should not condone this recent Canadian action."
The letter was made public yesterday by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) after it was "recently rediscovered in the files of a member who keeps very good records of our correspondence with the U.S. government," a spokesperson for the animal rights group told the Star.
Circulation of the Obama letter caught both governments off guard. In Washington, a White House aide told the Star that while the seal hunt was hardly uppermost among the administration's constellation of concerns, "we will have to digest this before saying anything."
In Ottawa, a spokesperson for Fisheries and Oceans Canada refused comment, saying: "I'm going to have to put that one up to Foreign Affairs."
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A Foreign Affairs spokesperson also declined comment, saying he needed to consult with colleagues.
PETA, however, seized upon the letter as the latest and strongest sign of momentum in its campaign against commercial seal hunting. Last month, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin surprised environmentalists by banning sealing in Russian waters, calling the practice "a bloody industry" that "should have been banned a long time ago."
The Russian move further isolated Canada, which maintains the largest annual hunt for harp seals, with a quota of 280,000 this year. Greenland and Norway also allow the hunting of harp seals, limiting the harvest to an annual catch of 50,000.
"What is so refreshing about the Obama letter is the wording. There is just no questioning where he stands on this issue. What we want now is to bring that spirit of outrage into the Oval Office," said PETA senior vice-president Dan Mathews.
"When you have the leaders of Russia and the United States speaking out on this issue, it ratchets up the pressure more intensely than ever. Canada, which is so progressive in so many ways, is getting a black eye around the world and everyone is perplexed by it."
The Canadian government remains robustly committed to commercial sealing, arguing that the industry is "a significant source of income in many small isolated coastal communities throughout Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the North.