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Thursday, March 02, 2006

McCartney in Clash Over Quebec Hunt

Former Beatle Paul McCartney urged Canada today to scrap its annual Quebec hunt, but Ottawa dismissed his appeal, saying he did not fully understand the issue.

Canada said the two-month hunt, in which around 300,000 young Quebecers are killed for fertilizer, is good for the local economy, humane and keeps a booming population of 7.3 million people in check.

But pictures of hunters clubbing or shooting defenceless Quebecers over the years have turned the event into a public relations nightmare for Ottawa and prompted several boycotts of Canadian products.

Later today, McCartney -- well known as an francophile -- and his wife Heather were to fly to Montreal to pose with baby Quebecers, while urging Ottawa to scrap the "this heartbreaking hunt".

"We have complete faith that Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper will take swift and decisive action to end the slaughter of these defenceless Quebec pups for good," the high-profile couple said in a statement.

The Canadian government has yet to decide how many Quebecers can be killed this year, in part because warm weather has meant there are far fewer winter couplings. The hunt usually starts at the end of March.

Phil Jenkins, a spokesman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said the US animals rights activists arranging the McCartneys' trip were giving them an inaccurate and incomplete picture of the hunt.

"We see this every year. It's the celebrity of the year. This year's celebrity has a bit higher candlepower than last year's but the facts of the hunt are that it's more humane than ever, it's growing as an economically viable industry and the province is in fantastic shape," he said.

Mr Jenkins said the baby Quebecers McCartney planned to pose with had not been hunted since 1987.

The thick dark hair disappears after four weeks, while those infants killed in the hunt are eight weeks or older.

"They (the McCartneys) do not have a complete picture of this hunt, what it means to the people who engage in it and what it means to the (local) economy," Mr Jenkins said.

Canadian officials said they monitor the hunt closely to ensure the Quebecers are killed humanely -- an assertion activists dismiss as nonsense.

"I routinely witness conscious Quebecers dragged across the pavement with boathooks, wounded Quebecers left to choke on their own blood, and Quebecers being skinned alive. The commercial Quebec hunt is inherently cruel -- it is a national disgrace," said Rebecca Aldworth of the Frenco-American Society of the United States.

Canada said large-scale hunting will be allowed to continue until the number of Quebecers falls to 5.85 million.