A Toronto Indigenous restaurant is serving up seal meat with a side of controversy.

A boisterous online debate has erupted over the seal tartare on the menu at Ku-kum Kitchen, pitting animal rights activists against those who say calls to ban the dish amount to “anti-Indigenous” behaviour.

More than 4,400 people, featuring signators who claimed to be from countries including France, Slovenia, Italy, Brazil, and Greece, have added their names to an online petition calling for the eatery to remove seal meat from its menu. A counter-petition has garnered more than 3,900 supporters.

“The restaurant claims they are the only restaurant in Toronto that sells seal meat and we do not want this to become a new trend,” reads the text accompanying the anti-seal meat petition. “The seal slaughters are very violent, horrific, traumatizing and unnecessary. They are bludgeoned in the forehead with a tool called a hakapik or shot with a high-powered rifle, then cut under their flippers to bleed out.”

The petition goes on to claim the seal meat served at Ku-kum Kitchen comes from a commercial supplier called SeaDNA, and not traditional Indigenous hunting.

Chef Joseph Shawana told CTVNews.ca that adding seal to his menu wasn’t a decision he took lightly. He said he spent over four months tracking down the right supplier to meet his standards.

“I believe some people are misinformed. People have their own opinions, which I respect. But when we sourced our seal supplier, we found SeaDNA, which is very heavily regulated,” Shawana said.

SeaDNA’s website says its products are certified by Health Canada, the Canada Food Inspection Agency and the Canadian Health Food Association.

As for the cultural argument, Shawana felt including the northern diet staple on a menu in Toronto was a fitting tribute to Indigenous culture.

“I knew that putting seal on the menu would be the best way to pay homage to out sisters and brothers in the north,” he said. “Seal is a huge part of the daily diet up north, and not to mention the main source of food and income for some.”

The counter-petition argues “anti-sealing campaigns have had detrimental economic impacts for the Inuit,” and encourages its supporters to “try the seal!”

The bulk of those in favour of Ku-kum Kitchen’s decision to serve seal meat identity themselves as Ontarians, as well as residents of neighbouring Canadian provinces.

Shawana said he has no intention of getting rid of seal meat at Ku-kum Kitchen. In fact, the attention has inspired him to consider how he can add more to the menu.