Forget the Winter Olympics, what really unites Canada's parliamentarians is a bit of furry sea mammal.
MPs and senators of all stripes broke bread Wednesday at a special luncheon on Parliament Hill, united by a menu that featured seal meat.
It's the first time seal has been served in the 100-year history of the parliamentary restaurant.
The event was staged by Liberal Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette to show support for Canada's beleaguered seal industry, which is facing a European ban.
Fisheries Minister Gail Shea and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff were among MPs from all four parties who attended.
Outside Parliament Hill, people, including members of the Ottawa Animal Defense League, protested Canada’s seal hunt.
“We’re here to represent the majority of Canadians who want to see the seal hunt ended, and who want to point out what this luncheon really is, which is a political stunt to try to raise the profile of certain politicians and try to get votes from Atlantic Canada in the next election,” said Sheryl Fink, senior research and project specialist with the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
“Canadians are opposed to it,” said Fink. “We’re opposed to paying for it with our tax dollars, we’re opposed to our taxes being used to send junkets overseas to try to promote seal products.
“The seal hunt is a very short-term industry that takes place in a matter of days or weeks.
“I do think sealers would better served by a government that would help transition into other forms of employment and income.”
Fink, who has attended seal hunts with IFAW as an observer, said there are “a lot of examples of cruelty that cannot be prevented in such a large-scale competitive commercial hunt like Canadian’s commercial seal hunt.”
"The Canadian government is spending millions of our tax dollars to prop up an embarrassingly cruel slaughter,” said Ottawa Animal Defense League member Emily Lavender.
“It ruins our reputation around the world,” added Ottawa resident Louise Leger of the hunt.
“I wish they’d get with the rest of the world,” said Ottawa resident Lennox White. “They should invest in seal-watching and eco-tourism.”
WITH FILES FROM THE CANADIAN PRESS