Friday, February 16, 2007

For me, intellectual freedom not only encompasses the right to think and say what you want, but also the right to access information. Access to information is necessary - it gives us the ability to learn and to gather information that could show us the truth.

For those of you who don't know me well, I'm a marine biologist and an animal rights activist (amongst other things). Way back in the good old days of marine biology classes, I learned about seal hunting and why the reasons for allowing seal hunting were flawed. Seals were not the cause of the cod stock collapse, nor were they impeding the recovering of stocks - that was our fault. And, hunters did not rely on seal pelts to survive another year, they could and did make more money with other endeavers. Politicians and hunters just wanted us to think that so that we would feel bad and let them hunt more seals.

These falsities and truths came out because of access to information. However, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is now trying to impede out rights to access information by increasing the observation distance (the distance observers have to be from the hunters). The current distance is 10 metres - DFO wants it to be 20 metres. This poses a problem because it would be very difficult, and at times impossible, to record the hunt. Recording the hunt shows the truth and provides access to information that most people would not have (let's face it, not many people are going to go there for their vacation).

So, observers have to keep their distance from hunters. But, and here is where injustice takes a nasty swing at us, the hunters are not required to keep any distance from observers. A drafted protest letter from the Animal Alliance of Canada states that:

"As a result, observers are regularly physically assaulted on the ice by sealers, charged at on snowmobiles, having their inflatable crafts rammed by sealing boats, etc. The only violence directed at people during the seal hunt is always committed by sealers upon observers."

To add insult to injury, the seal hunt happens in public space and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees us the right to observe and record the hunt.

So, even if you don't care about the seals (tsk!tsk!), you should care about the right to observe, record and access *truthful* information about the seal hunt. As future librarians access to information and peoples rights to the truth are very important, and we need to understand that attacks on these do not always happen within a library context (when was the last time you saw a seal hunt in your local library). As such, sometimes we need to fight the fight outside of the library.

- anne

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