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Activists Cite Sealers Assault

March 24, 1999

TORONTO (AP) _ Canadian seal hunters assaulted a British anti-sealing activist and a Dutch journalist while they were trying to observe a hunt on an ice floe in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, an activists said Wednesday.

Police confirmed they were investigating the incident, which occurred Tuesday as international activists mounted their annual public-relations campaign against the Canadian seal hunt.

This year, Canada is allowing hunters to kill up to 275,000 harp and hooded seals, roughly the same quota as in the two previous years.

Canada’s seal population numbers several million, and the government and sealing industry consider the hunt a valuable source of income for economically ailing coastal communities in Atlantic Canada.

One of the most vocal opponents of the hunt, the British-based International Fund for Animal Welfare, has released video footage showing hunters clubbing seals, then skinning some which appeared to be still alive.

The group involved in Tuesday’s incident included an IFAW official, Nick Jenkins; two journalists from the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf and a journalist from the German newspaper Bild Zeitung.

Jenkins said four sealers approached the group after they landed by helicopter on an ice floe. Jenkins said he was struck in the face by one hunter while the other three manhandled De Telegraaf journalist Theo Terwiel and smashed his video camera.

The group’s pilot radioed for help, and a Coast Guard helicopter arrived with police and federal fisheries officers who interviewed those at the scene. As of Wednesday afternoon, no charges had been filed.

At a news conference, Jenkins described the sealers as ``abusive and aggressive.″ He said his group had not tried to provoke the hunters and, before the attack, stayed more than 65 feet away from them as required by Canadian regulations.

Two members of the British Parliament, in Canada to observe the hunt, told the news conference that Canadian authorities should do more to allow outside monitoring.

``I have witnessed hassle and obstruction of those seeking to witness the hunt,″ said Ian Cawsey, who heads a parliamentary committee on animal welfare. ``This will only heighten concern that are practices happening that the authorities would prefer we do not see.″

Canada’s fisheries department says it is committed to promoting a properly conducted seal hunt.

``We believe in a humane harvest and if there are violations we make sure there is action taken,″ said Jacques Robichaud, a department spokesman.

Scores of charges have been filed against sealers in the past three years, in some cases leading to fines. The government also has toughened its regulations, requiring seal hunters to go through a two-year apprenticeship before becoming full-fledged commercial harvesters.

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