Miss N.L. stands up for sealing after gory photo defacement makes waves online

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - She's 19, has a gun licence and is a beauty queen being hailed as an unlikely hero of Canada's fading commercial seal hunt.
Miss Newfoundland and Labrador, Sara Green, took to the airwaves Friday in defence of the centuries-old tradition after a gory doctored photo of her was posted online.
The picture appeared on an anti-sealing Facebook group page. It alters a photo of Green wearing a loaned sealskin coat during the Santa Claus parade in St. John's in November.
Green was shocked to see herself sprayed with red and wielding a club over blood-spattered seal carcasses.
She called local media outlets to complain.
"It was gruesome. It was unnecessary ... when I saw the photo, of course my jaw dropped," she said in an interview. "I couldn't believe it, but it gave me a bigger motivation to stand up for the seal hunt."
The photo was no longer available on the website later in the day.
Green was raised in the tiny outport town of Winterton, about a 90-minute drive west of St. John's.
She has a firearms licence and plans to join her grandfather and uncle on their annual seal hunt this spring, she said.
"I wore the sealskin jacket because I do support the seal hunt. I wasn't expecting it to go this far."
Animal rights protesters say the dwindling annual ritual is cruel and unnecessary. They have pushed for a European Union ban on seal products that's to take full effect this August.
But a spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare said the group would not stoop to personal attacks or fake photos in its campaign against commercial sealing.
"We want to express our views," said Laurie Wilson. "What our organization does is very important to us, but we would never engage in that behaviour.
"There's always people who are really radical, who are really negative, who are not concerned about how they get to where they need to get to. They'll hurt anyone. And it impacts all of us."
Green said the hunt is needed to control voracious seal populations that feast on fragile cod and herring stocks.
"It's been a part of our heritage for hundreds of years and there's no reason to be bashing it," she said. "I mean, it's become so humane in the last few years. There's been so many changes to make it better and make it less dreadful for the seals."
Sealers have almost entirely given up use of clubs or hakapiks in favour of rifles, Green said.
Camille Labchuk, a member of the Green Party of Canada's federal council, said the photo flap is overblown.
"It seems to me that this is more of an opportunity for somebody of limited celebrity to use such a doctored photo as a political hot-button issue - perhaps to further their own career," she said.
"No compassionate person can observe the seal kill and still support it. What it represents is an archaic industry that is going nowhere but downhill. Countries around the world are shutting their borders to seal products."
In many outports, sealing income was a vital cash injection to help fund the rest of the fishing season.
But many families were hit hard after one of the bleakest hunts on record last year. Prices plunged to $14 a pelt from a high of $105 in 2006 as the global recession drove down demand for fur.
Green, who hopes for a career in journalism, said her phone has been ringing non-stop since she went on television about the photo.
People keep asking her if she's afraid for her safety, she said.
"And that scares me. I hadn't really thought of that. But I've got all of Newfoundland and Labrador backing me up."

Organizations: European Union, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Green Party of Canada

Geographic location: ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Winterton

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