GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE -- The annual seal hunt off the East Coast is a "stain on the character of the Canadian people," music legend Sir Paul McCartney said yesterday as he and his wife, Heather, staged a high-profile, anti-hunt protest on barren ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The megastar couple called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to end the centuries-old commercial slaughter by buying back hunters' licences and promoting eco-tourism instead.
"We don't want to see the local people suffer," Sir Paul said after the couple got on their bellies to get a close-up look at newborn harp seals sprawled on an ice pan about 20 kilometres northwest of the Magdalen Islands.
"We're calling upon Stephen Harper and the government to consider looking at this problem . . . in the light of the international objections," Sir Paul said.
"Canada is known as a great nation . . . But this is something that leaves a stain on the character of the Canadian people and we don't think that's right. I don't think the vast amount of Canadians think that's right."
The most recent figures suggest the industry, which started in the 1700s, was worth between $15-million and $20-million annually and employed up to 10,000 people, most of them in Newfoundland.
Supporters argue that income from the harvest is vital to remote communities with few other economic opportunities.
Yesterday's protest was organized by the Humane Society of the United States and the British-based group, Respect for Animals.
The date for the start of this year's hunt has yet to be set, though it usually begins in late March. The 2006 quota is also under review.