Canada Rejects Wishes of Canadians and the Spirit of CITES

Canada Polar Bear/Inuit Reception

Yesterday evening at the 15th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (“CITES”), the government of Canada hosted an event highlighting Inuit culture and the role hunting polar bears plays in that culture.  The government of Canada’s presentation was part of its campaign to defeat the US proposal, supported by NRDC, to uplist polar bears to CITES Appendix I, which would ban international trade in polar bear parts.  For more on CITES and what is at stake read my prior blogs, here and here.

Unfortunately, the government of Canada’s campaign is at odds with the wishes of the majority of Canadians and at odds with the spirit of CITES.  Poll results released today by Humane Society International/Canada show that over 80 percent of Canadians support banning the commercial trade in polar bear parts on the international market.  When Canadians were given more information on Canada’s plan to oppose the ban at the CITES conference, two thirds of those expressing an opinion opposed the government’s decision.

As for rejecting the spirit of CITES, for animals threatened with extinction, the core purpose of CITES is to ensure that trade in specimens of these species does not further endanger their survival.  In effect, CITES provides the means for the international community to recognize species that are threatened with extinction and to make certain that the international trade of those species will not be a further contributing factor (be it a primary or minor factor) to their potential extinction.  Thus, while the fate of the species will surely be dependent on the internal regulatory and management regimes of individual countries (or, in the case of polar bears, international cooperation on combating climate change), the parties to CITES can have a clean conscience knowing that at least international trade is no longer a threat.  It truly is a precautionary approach to the protection of species.  Unfortunately, it is a precautionary approach that Canada and many other CITES parties reject when they put economic and social interests ahead of species.  We do not currently know how many countries will follow Canada's lead, but until a decision is made at this conference NRDC will continue fighting to get polar bears the protection they deserve.  Stay tuned...