RANKIN INLET, Nunavut – Canada's governor general ate a slaughtered seal's raw heart in a show of support to the country's seal hunters, a display that a European Union spokeswoman on Tuesday called "too bizarre to acknowledge."
Governor General Michaelle Jean, the representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as Canada's head of state, gutted the seal and swallowed a slice of the mammal's organ late Monday after an EU vote earlier this month to impose a ban on seal products on grounds that the seal hunt is cruel.
Asked Tuesday whether her actions were a message to Europe, Jean replied, "Take from that what you will."
Hundreds of Inuit at a community festival gathered Monday as Jean knelt above a pair of seal carcasses and used a traditional ulu blade to slice the meat off the skin. After cutting through the flesh, Jean turned to the woman beside her and asked: "Could I try the heart?"
After swallowing a piece whole and deeming it tasty, Jean, whose post is largely ceremonial, defended the hunt as an eons-old traditional hunting practice that is not inhumane.
A spokeswoman for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas offered no official reaction.
"No comment; it's too bizarre to acknowledge," Barbara Helfferich said.
Animal rights groups believe Canada's annual seal hunt is cruel, poorly monitored and provides little economic benefit. Sealers and Canadian authorities say it is sustainable, humane and provides income for isolated communities.
Barbara Slee, an anti-seal hunt campaigner at the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Brussels said she was disgusted by Jean's actions.
"The fact that the governor-general in public is slashing and eating a seal, I don't think that really helps the cause, and I'm convinced that this will not change the mind of European citizens and politicians" because the deal is largely finished, Slee said.
EU governments are to sign the ban into law on June 25th after the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to impose the measure.
The new EU rule offers narrow exemptions so Inuit communities from Canada, Greenland and elsewhere can continue traditional hunts, but bars them from large-scale trading of their pelts and other seal goods in Europe.
Rebecca Aldworth, director of Humane Society International Canada, said Jean's actions were misleading and offensive because of the exemptions.
"Inuit people are protected in the legislation. To suggest otherwise is deceptive on the part of the Canadian government," Aldworth said.
But, Newfoundland sealer Jack Troake chuckled after hearing of Jean's actions.
"That's great stuff," he said. "You've got some of these environmentalists that are going to jump on her, but I think she's strong enough. She can take that, I think."