The European Union has tried to dampen the celebrations of many Canadian sealers who were told this week that an EU ban on their products would be suspended.
The EU was caught off guard when the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami announced on Thursday that the European General Court had blocked the freeze until Canadian Inuit leaders, sealing companies and others who are part of a challenge led by the ITK have a chance to argue against it.
Lawyers for the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-country bloc, determined on Friday that an exemption from the ban would apply only to the groups and individuals taking part in the court case and not to the entire Canadian sealing industry.
"The commission would like to clarify that the trade ban put in place ... still comes into effect today," Maria Kokkonen, a commission spokeswoman, said in a statement.
"However, it will not apply to the applicants in this court case until the General Court has had the opportunity to hear all parties involved."
In fact, almost ever sealer in Canada is a party to the court case, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said on Friday night.
The commission has until Sept. 7 to present its arguments in favour of the ban, which took effect on Friday. At that point, the court could reinstate the ban or keep the suspension in place until the end of what is likely to be a lengthy case.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said at a news conference in Prince Edward Island on Friday that his government is disappointed with the EU interpretation of the court ruling.
"We would urge them to respect the court decision," he said.
A ban on Canadian seal products "is the completely unfair and discriminatory treatment of a Canadian industry, an industry of people of modest means who work hard, who are being targeted by environmental extremists based on complete misinformation," he said.
The government of Canada will continue to defend the interest of sealers, the Prime Minister said.
"They respect, frankly, the same kind of humanitarian considerations that are present in all other areas of animal husbandry. They should not be targeted like this," he said.
Government officials in Ottawa were reviewing the commission's interpretation of the ruling on Friday.
Representatives with the Inuit Tapirit Kanatami said they disagree with the EU and do not believe the court meant to suspend the implementation of the ban only on seal products caught and processed by those who initiated the court case.
The Inuit group pointed to wording in the ruling about the importance of maintaining "the status quo" until a decision in the case is rendered.
But Adrian Heil, a spokesman in Europe for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which opposes the commercial killing of seals, said his group is not particularly upset about the temporary lifting of the ban. The hunt is over for this year, said Mr. Heil, but he expects the full ban to be in place by the time it starts again next spring.