YOU WON'T FIND it listed in Canada's calendar of tourist attractions, but it's time once again for one of the ugliest rites of spring that the government there sanctions: the annual clubbing to death of 180,000 baby harp seals. As usual, the Canadian government is upset not so much by the savagery of this disgusting business as by the presence of film crews and other spectators who generate justifiable worldwide public revulsion. Also true to annual form, all official pretenses that this is now a regulated and humane business have already been contradicted by new horror shows that were witnessed this week by hundreds of shocked spectators along the shores.

Canadian law bars any onlookers within a half-mile of the slaughtering or any flying within 2,000 feet of a hunt. But on Wednesday, people lining the northern shoreline of Prince Edward Island could see what was happening: Though the government had claimed that licenses would be issued only to hunters who had been trained to kill as humanely as possible, the ice was jammed with club-wielding amateurs, most of whom had never killed a seal before. According the London Daily Telegraph, some of the seals' pups were battered half a dozen times with homemade clubs before they were killed; others were skinned alive before this hunt was called off.

During those scenes, government authorities came on shore and seized cameras and film after a tussle with two members of the Animal Protection Institute; film also was taken from a photographer for the Canadian Press, the national news cooperative. Later, the Fisheries Ministry said the film would be returned.

We've seen more than enough film already, and we've heard the arguments over whether the harp seal population is or isn't in serious jeopardy. If there is any reason to keep on killing these little mammals for their pelts -- and we can think of many other things to wear -- the least the Canadian government could do is 1) stop licensing novices and goons to club the daylights out of baby seals, and 2) get serious about setting limits and policing the slaughter.