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Sometimes, I hesitate to tell people that I am Canadian. Sure, there are many Canadian exports that my American friends enjoy - "Dancing With the Stars"' Pamela Anderson, Molson beer and curling, to name a few. But mention "Canada" to Americans or Europeans this time of year and you're likely to be met with a disapproving look.
That's because this is the time of year when the Canadian government allows sealers to club defenseless seal pups and rip off their skin.
Yes, it's seal-slaughtering season in Canada. As a Canadian, I want to be among the first to say that it's past time for this senseless massacre to end.
The commercial seal slaughter rightfully draws worldwide condemnation. But please know that most Canadians also find the massacre to be reprehensible - that is, those of us who know about it do. One study found that because of limited media coverage in Canada, 60 percent of Canadians are blissfully unaware that the seal slaughter still takes place.
A survey conducted last month after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared on YouTube defending the slaughter found that less than half of Canadians agree with the statement "The regulations put in place over the past generations have made the seal hunt in Canada very humane."
They haven't: A report by a team of veterinarians who observed the seal hunt in Newfoundland in 2007 revealed "widespread disregard" for these regulations. Some sealers failed to check for vital signs before skinning animals, and nearly half the seals observed by the team showed "response to stimuli after being hooked and dragged."
Yet the Canadian government continues to support this annual horror show - even if no one else does. The United States has had a ban on seal products since the early 1970s, and last year, the European Union enacted a ban as well. Today, seal pelts fetch about $15 each, a sharp decline from the $105 per pelt reached just four years ago.
In its infinite wisdom, the Canadian government even upped the quota for this year's hunt - even though the unusually mild winter and lack of ice has meant that dead and dying seal pups are washing up on coastal beaches.
When you factor in the millions of dollars that Canada spends every year to prop up this dying industry - including the costs of deploying the Coast Guard to monitor the slaughter and rescue stranded sealers, lobbying efforts to fight bans on seal products, lavish trips to China to produce seal fur fashion shows and so on - it becomes clear that it's not only the seals who are paying a high price.
While Canadian officials hold government-sponsored "seal meat luncheons" (yes, really) to try to drum up interest in seal products and pretend that bashing seal pups over the head is "humane," the rest of us can take action.
My fellow Canadians, please contact your local MP and tell him or her that as a constituent, you want to see an immediate end to the seal slaughter. And to my American friends, one of the easiest things that you can do to stop the slaughter is refuse to wear fur. Anyone who wears a fox-fur stole or a jacket with rabbit-fur trim helps to create an environment in which all fur - including seal fur - is acceptable.
Clubbing seals is nothing to be proud of. Together, we can put an end to this shameful spectacle once and for all.
Michael Hayward lives in Toronto. He wrote this for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals 501 Front Street, Norfolk, Va. 23510; www.CanadasShame.com. Information about PETA's funding may be found at www.peta.org/about/numbers.asp.