Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ontario SPCA inspection of Marineland welcome, but not the answer to problems

While a great deal of media attention has been focused on a pending investigation of Marineland by the Ontario SPCA, some important facts are being overlooked. Chief among them are the fact that the Ontario SPCA Act is designed to deal with the symptons of the problem, rather than the problem itself.

The key issue in Ontario at present is the lack of any upfront regulation and oversight of wildlife in captivity facilities or dangerous wild animals owned by private citizens. What Ontario needs is a tough system of licensing, high standards of animal management, care and safety that evolve with the times, a reporting system that requires inventory reports and other information on an annual basis, regular inspections and a legitimate process for dealing with public complaints. What won’t solve the problem is a one time inspection of one facility because it's in the news.

The alarming circumstances at Marineland highlighted in news reports are nothing new and similarly bleak conditions are endured by a multitude of animals in other facilities across the province. What many people forget is that the owners and operators of these facilities are only doing what the Province of Ontario allows them to do.

Ontario's lack of protection for wildlife in captivity is a long-standing issue and has been recognized as a problem since the late 1970s. Since that time there have been bills introduced, study groups convened, internal government initiatives carried out, investigative reports released, tens of thousands of letters, postcards and emails submitted to government, and a broad range of other actions, but a succession of Ontario governments have turned a blind eye to the suffering.

In the Marineland case, while an SPCA inspection is welcome, there are no comprehensive, objective standards for the organization to enforce. The few standards that do exist under the OSPCA Act are vague and inadequate. So the potential for long-lasting change, or even any change at all, is low.

There’s also been some talk about additional amendments (some were made in 2009) to the OSPCA Act. In fact, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, who is responsible for the Act, suggested that changes might be a possibility. However, while changes to OSPCA Act are welcome, they are not the answer.

What Ontario needs to protect the animals at Marineland and all other facilities in the province is a proper regulatory regime that requires everyone to obtain a license, satisfy its conditions and that makes them accountable for their actions. Models for this kind of regulatory system exist in other jurisdictions and have already been developed in Ontario but never implemented. It's time they were. The responsibility for making that happen falls to one person, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. I hope he hears from his constituents and Ontarians across the province.

Rob Laidlaw
Zoocheck Inc.

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