FUR COMMISSION USA PRESS RELEASE, APRIL 21, 1999
A Canadian court has refused to consider gory videotape submitted as evidence against Newfoundland sealers accused of inhumane acts, with the judge calling the cameraman “a sophisticated con man”.
The video was taken by freelancer Chris Wicke, on assignment for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Following the release of a highly edited version by IFAW in February 1997, it was used to bring charges against seven sealers for 17 alleged hunt violations.
But on April 20, 1999, Judge Robert Fowler declared the video to be inadmissible, dealing a blow to the federal prosecution from which it may not recover.
IFAW has spent more than 30 years trying to close down Canada’s seal harvest, and has relied heavily in its campaigns on shocking graphic materials. The latest judgment has reopened an old debate about the authenticity of materials used by IFAW and other animal rights groups.
Judge Fowler criticized Wicke, who shot the video in 1996, for lying to federal fisheries officers and sealers to obtain an observer’s permit and get close to the hunt, calling him “a sophisticated con man.”
He also took the prosecution to task for failing to provide the court with an original version of the footage, which depicts seals being skinned alive, injured seals left to die slowly, and the illegal use of hooks to kill seals. The footage presented to the court lasted 23 minutes, and contained no fewer than 77 cuts, suggesting some changes could have been made, said Fowler.
Fowler also castigated IFAW for taking 10 months to give the video to officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, calling it ”the loosest form of evidentiary handling possible.”
The case has been adjourned until May 5, by which time the Crown must decide whether to appeal the ruling, proceed without the video, or drop the charges.
Lawyer Averill Baker, representing six sealers, said she doesn’t believe the Crown can proceed with the case. ”If they do, they have serious problems because their only witness is someone the court now perceives to be a sophisticated con man,” she was reported as saying (Toronto Star, April 21).
As for the video itself, there is a lesson here on the need for self-control in the editing room. If the material is good, leave well alone. “But 77 cuts in 23 minutes? That’s not videotape. That’s an animated film!” exclaimed FCUSA Executive Director Teresa Platt.