OTTAWA Canadian parliamentarians tucked into a meal of seal meat on Wednesday to defy both animal right activists and the European Union, which has banned imports of seal products.
Some two dozen guests, surrounded on all sides by media, crammed into a small room off the main parliamentary restaurant to hear speeches backing the annual hunt off Canada's East Coast, which the EU says is inhumane.
"This support begins on the plates of Canadians," said federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea as she prepared to eat three small medallions of double-smoked bacon-wrapped seal loin in a port reduction.
The EU imposed its ban last year after a decades-long fight by what Shea called "misguided and mean-spirited" anti-seal-hunt activists. The seals are either shot or hit over the head with a spiked club called a hakapik, which critics say is cruel.
All of Canada's major political parties say they are in favor of the hunt, which takes place on ice floes in March and April.
"The Europeans simply don't know what they're talking about. Since time began human beings have lived with animals and they have culled animals," said Michael Ignatieff, leader of the main opposition Liberal Party.
He spoke at an earlier reception where waiters passed through the room carrying platters of seal terrine snacks. Ignatieff ate several for the benefit of photographers.
"It tastes delicious, actually. It's a meaty taste, a little gamy," he declared.
The meal was arranged by Liberal Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette, who said the hunt provided income for fishing communities in the Atlantic.
"We're sending a message to the European parliamentarians ... we want to say something so that opponents do not take to the floor with lies," she told reporters.
The EU ban has slashed demand for seal furs, meat and oil. Poor weather conditions and a lack of ice mean this year's hunt could be scrapped.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway)