Ottawa: Canadian sealers claimed a victory saying the European Court of Justice had suspended a seal products ban, even though the European Commission insisted the ban would come into force Friday as scheduled.
The European Parliament announced the ban last year after public outcry over Canada`s annual commercial seal hunt, which animal rights activists denounce as cruel.
The ban would prevent the import of seal products into EU countries.
Native groups, hunters and fur companies in Canada and Greenland were among a dozen plaintiffs that contested the European regulation, saying it was unfair and discriminatory.
The principal organization in the proceedings, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), showed reporters court documents stating the ban was suspended for the plaintiffs until their lawsuit challenging the ban could be heard.
The Canadian native group ITK provided a copy of the court order saying that restrictions on the marketing of seal products in European countries "is suspended, insofar as it concerns the applicants, until the order terminating the present proceedings for interim relief is made."
Among the listed plaintiffs were the Canadian Seal Marketing Group, the Fur Institute of Canada, NuTan Furs, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference Greenland, and GC Reiber Skinn AS of Norway, as well as hunters and trappers.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission, however, said in Brussels that the ban on seal products would go ahead as planned. "The embargo on seal products will come into force Friday," Commission spokeswoman Maria Kokkonen told AFP.
The ITK declined to comment on Kokkonen`s statement, saying it would wait for an official statement from the commission.
ITK president Mary Simon said that the documents showing the interim injunction "is clear evidence that the EU Court is very much aware of the seriousness and principled nature of the fundamental objections of Inuit and other plaintiffs to this very unjust law."
"In our view, the seal ban is both illegal and immoral," she said, urging the European Parliament to "see fit at this stage to do the right thing and withdraw its legislation."
Although Inuit are exempt from the ban, they claim they are nevertheless being affected because it shrinks the market for the product.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government is defending the sealers at the World Trade Organization, described the ban as "completely unfair" and "flagrant discrimination" against Canadian sealers who have been following established rules of animal husbandry.
"It is a disgrace that they (have been) treated this way in some countries based on no facts or information whatsoever," he told reporters.
Earlier, Ottawa said it would further press its own challenge of the ban at the WTO by calling for a dispute settlement panel after talks in December failed to settle the row.
"We have made representations at all levels of the EU to inform them that the Canadian seal hunt is sustainable, humane and closely monitored," said Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.
However, the European Parliament "has sided with radical animal rights lobbyists" and left Ottawa "no choice but to initiate a formal application for the establishment of a World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel to address the matter," Shea said.
In April, Shea increased by 50,000 the allowable catch of harp seals this past season to 330,000. But only tens of thousands were caught.
A lack of sea ice in one of the warmest Canadian winters on record and the looming EU ban were blamed for ruining what was to be a banner seal hunt.
Most of Canada`s 6,000 sealers stayed home, unable to find buyers for their catch or stymied by a lack of ice floes for the first time in 60 years on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, which usually host hordes of seals birthing pups.