Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society represents a return to humanity’s violent past.
You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.
So begins an 18-page court judgment released six weeks ago in Seattle by a panel of three judges. The individuals engaging in the above behaviour belong to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an Oregon-based non-profit that provides a good demonstration of where extremist environmental thinking can lead.
Describing itself as “a marine wildlife conservation organization,” the Society says its mission is to:
end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.
Those are noble goals. So is donating $10,000 to the Children’s Wish Foundation. But if the money is acquired via a robbery, the person making the donation is still a criminal.
The court says the hunting of whales is regulated by an international treaty – and that the Institute of Cetacean Research (a Japanese foundation), qualifies for the necessary research permit and operates within the law. Nevertheless, the institute “has been hounded on the high seas for years” by the Sea Shepherd.
Since Sea Shepherd’s ships aren’t owned by a government, they are private vessels serving private ends. In the words of the court:
We conclude that “private ends” include those pursued on personal, moral or philosophical grounds, such as Sea Shepherd’s professed environmental goals. That the perpetrators believe themselves to be serving the public good does not render their ends public. (p. 5)
It’s a mystery to me how hurling glass projectiles at people with whom you disagree helps protect ecosystems (the Sea Shepherd website downplays the acid angle, says that particular tactic was discontinued in 2010, and avoids mentioning any broken glass).
Nor is it clear how ramming a ship with the intent to sink it can possibly be an environmentally-friendly thing to do – leaving aside the obvious threat to human life such activities represent.
How much fuel oil is spilled into the ocean whenever a ship is deliberately sunk – and why is it OK when environmentalists do this on purpose but leaks associated with oil rig accidents are disasters?
According to the court, the Sea Shepherd has already “rammed and sunk several other whaling vessels.” Indeed, it boasts about this by adorning “the hulls of its ships with the names and national flags” of said vessels. (Page 17 of the ruling includes the photograph appearing at the top of this post.)
Violent vigilantism used to be commonplace, just as pirates once were. Then came the rule of law. Collectively, we rejected the idea that people should take matters into their own hands, no matter how strongly they feel. We agreed to behave in a more civilized manner.
Those connected to the Sea Shepherd represent a return to humanity’s violent past.