MONTREAL - A French chef who serves seal meat at his Montreal restaurant says he's been bombarded by death threats ever since Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean made global headlines by sinking her teeth into the marine mammal.
Benoit Lenglet said animal-rights activists, mostly from France and Belgium, have inundated his inbox with emails saying he is "going to die" and "going to burn in hell."
"They don't understand what we're doing, they just see the hunt," Lenglet said inside his restaurant, Au 5ieme peche, in the city's trendy Plateau-Mont-Royal district.
"They don't see the economy with that, they don't see the people who live from that.
"We make foie gras in France - force-feeding geese is much more cruel than the seal hunt."
For two years, the cosy French restaurant, which seats 32, has been serving the rare dishes, including seal tartar, seal pepperoni and seal smoked meat.
He said sales of seal appetizers almost immediately doubled after Jean's famous tasting last month during an Inuit feast, where she was filmed eating a slice of raw heart taken from the blubbery creature.
The Governor General's sampling also stirred massive debate around the world over seal hunting in Canada.
Lenglet, who was raised in northern France, said the first threats arrived a few weeks before Jean's snack, after a news item on his bistro's unusual fare was published in Europe.
He said the hateful emails have continued to pour in since she created the international media frenzy.
"We've put together a file with all of them," Lenglet said. "We have pages of threats."
But the Canadian spokeswoman for Humane Society International said she doubts Lenglet has received death threats over his menu.
"I'm very skeptical about his assertion, particularly when he's saying that these supposed threats are coming from Europe," Rebecca Aldworth said Thursday.
"I have never seen a campaign of that nature."
Last month, the European Parliament voted to ban seal products, a move seen by aboriginals and East Coast sealers as an attack on their trade and way of life.
The bill still needs the backing of EU governments, though they are expected to sign it into law June 25.
Aldworth said people might be confused by Jean's actions into thinking that restaurant seal meat comes from Inuit communities.
She said the seal is likely a product of the commercial hunt, which primarily targets young seals for their pelts.
With less meat on the juveniles, the majority of carcasses are left to rot on ice floes, she added.
"This is a very common tactic of the Canadian government to try to blur the lines between commercial seal hunting, which is by and large conducted by non-aboriginal people from the East Coast of Canada, and Inuit subsistence hunting, which I think people generally have a broad acceptance of," she said.
Aldworth doesn't believe there will ever be a viable commercial seal-meat market.
But Au 5ieme peche isn't the only Montreal restaurant to add seal to its menu.
Les iles en ville, which opened six months ago, specializes in products from the remote archipelago of Iles-de-la-Madeleine.
Co-owner Andree Garcia said the restaurant received a flood of queries after the Governor General's nosh in Nunavut.
"People have been calling about tasting seal heart, but we explain to them that we don't have seal heart," said Garcia, who offers seal filets, seal pate and seal sausages.
When asked about threats, she said to date they've only had positive feedback.
"Not at all, (but) we were expecting that people might show up to criticize us," she said.
Back at Lenglet's bistro, the restaurateur sees opportunity for the delicate, juicy meat that tastes like duck. He plans to continue serving the dishes when it's available, usually between March and October, for about $12 to $15 each.
"People want it by curiosity," he said of the dark, lean meat that is shipped to his bistro from a butcher in Iles-de-la-Madeleine.
"The threats come from Europe. Here in Quebec, I think there are more people for (the hunt) than against it."