Friday, May 05, 2006

U.S. Humane Society Serves Libel Notice on Fisheries Minister Over Seal Hunt At

Excellent. Glad to see the HSUS is still fighting.


U.S. humane society serves libel notice on fisheries minister over seal hunt at

(CP) - The Humane Society of the United States served a libel notice Thursday on Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn, claiming he falsely said that observers he had banned from the East Coast seal hunt had been charged.

The society is demanding a public apology, saying Hearn tried to "criminalize" the process with remarks to media organizations about several people he banned from the hunt in March.

"If you step over that line and try to interfere in any way with the hunt, then you can be arrested and charged, as people were last week," Hearn is quoted as saying in the notice.

"These people will not be going back to the hunt. If, upfront, you say: 'I'm going to the hunt, but I'm going out there to interfere,' we will not grant you a permit."

The libel notice, prepared by a Toronto law firm, says none of the seven people involved in an incident in the Gulf of St. Lawrence have been charged with any offences and Hearn's words implied they deliberately intended to disrupt the hunt.

However, fisheries officials in Canada say charges are still being considered.

"Members of the public assume that you state the facts accurately when you speak on the subject," says the notice, which must be served before any legal action is taken.

If there's no apology within a few weeks, the group says it intends to follow through and seek damages.

"We do take this very seriously," Rebecca Aldworth, one of the society members who was banned, said from Montreal.

Steve Outhouse, Hearn's spokesman, said the libel notice had been faxed to the minister's office.

"We're evaluating what they've said and obviously having our legal staff look at it," he said in Ottawa.

Hearn took the unusual step of banning five society members, including Aldworth, and one British animal protection worker from the hunt after their boat apparently violated the terms of their observer permits by getting too close to a sealing vessel in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

A foreign journalist was later allowed to return.

"We filmed the incident," said Aldworth, who has observed the hunt for eight years. "I don't believe we were within 10 metres. And the officer never said we'd tried to disrupt the hunt."

As a result of Hearn's remarks, however, Aldworth said she and five others were denied permission to record the hunt for the rest of the season.

"He painted the issue in the public consciousness in a way that made it acceptable to deny us permits. There were clear political reasons. That set the stage for them to deny us our constitutional right to observe it."

Canadian Fisheries officials are reviewing the rules and considering new restrictions on observers.

Aldworth said she expects the whole issue will become a court issue.

"The oceans belong to all Canadians. There's no other fishery that requires you to have an observer's permit."

And it's unfair, she said, that sealers are allowed to ram the inflatable boats used by activists in a bid to get them thrown out.

"It's an unequal application of the law."

The American society has staged high-profile demonstrations against the hunt for years and routinely holds rallies outside the Canadian embassy in the U.S. capital.

The hunt, which closed last month, was one of the most turbulent in decades. Besides clashes between sealers and protesters, celebrities including ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and actress Brigitte Bardot spearheaded new efforts to stop it.

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