(CN) – The EU’s ban on seal products not gleaned from traditional Inuit hunts is legal, the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an industry association that represents the interests of Canadian Inuits, challenged the EU’s ban on seal products alongside various manufacturers and traders of seal products.
They claimed that the law, adopted by the European Commission in 2010, falls outside the legislative purview because its principal objective is to protect animal welfare.
The EU’s lower court tossed the challenge in 2013, finding the ban was meant to harmonize various national laws governing the seal trade in Europe and that the protection of animal welfare was a legitimate public-interest objective.
Additionally, the lower court found that the Canadian Inuit lacked standing to challenge the ban because they were not directly affected by it. The European Court of Justice upheld that finding in 2013.
On Thursday, the Luxembourg-based high court dismissed the appeal brought by manufacturers and traders of seal products and affirmed the ban – which stemmed from the brutality of the seal hunt – in full.
In its 8-page judgment, the court noted a legitimate need for EU lawmakers to harmonize various national laws governing the seal trade since the differences actually impeded the free movement of seal products in the European market.
The court also rejected claims that the ban violates the EU’s human-rights constitution, namely the groups’ right to property since the ban prohibits them from exploiting seal products commercially in Europe.
“The right to property afforded by the EU constitution does not apply to mere commercial interests or opportunities, the uncertainties of which are part of the very essence of economic activity, but applies to rights with an asset value creating, under the legal system, an established legal position enabling the holder to exercise those rights autonomously and for his benefit,” the court wrote.
“Likewise, it is apparent from the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights that future income cannot be considered to constitute ‘possessions’ that may enjoy the protection of that article unless it has already been earned, it is definitely payable or there are specific circumstances that can cause the person concerned to entertain a legitimate expectation of obtaining an asset.
“The appellants have pleaded before the EU judicature only the mere possibility of being able to market seal products in the European Union, and have not set out such circumstances,” the court held.
However, the court also noted that by UN agreement seal products derived from traditional Inuit hunts and necessary for Inuit subsistence must be allowed on the market – and the EU ban accommodates that, the court concluded.
Canada’s main seal hunt takes place in the spring on ice floes off the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While the seals are sometimes shot, they are often bludgeoned over the head with a spiked club called a hakapik.
The Humane Society International/Europe said it was “overjoyed though not surprised” by the ruling.
“This was the final appeal in a series of spurious cases brought by the commercial sealing industry and some Inuit representatives in an attempt to annul the EU regulation on trade in seal products,” said the group’s executive director Joanna Swabe. “Time and again, the courts have ruled that the European Union’s decision to ban the cruel products of commercial seal slaughters was entirely justified and had a solid legal basis.
“It is time for the sealing industry to finally realize that this landmark legislation, which enjoys the support of millions of EU citizens, is here to stay.”
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