Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Letter to Minister Madeleine Meilleur and Premier Kathleen Wynne regarding "province taking action to enhance animal welfare" announcement

The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur
Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services
18th Floor, George Drew Building
25 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1Y6

The Honourable Kathleen Wynne
Premier of Ontario
Main Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario, M7A 1A3

Dear Minister and Premier:

On behalf of our thousands of members, supporters and constituents throughout Ontario, we would like to express our profound disappointment in your recent announcement regarding the protection of animals and the enhancement of animal welfare in Ontario, particularly with regard to wildlife in captivity.

While we have no issue with increased funding for the Ontario SPCA, your October 25, 2013 announcement failed completely to address the long-standing core issues regarding the keeping of wild animals in zoos, menageries, aquariums and by private individuals in Ontario. In fact, not a single key point discussed in your consultation conducted earlier in 2013 was included in your announcement. Wildlife in captivity in Ontario will remain largely unmonitored and unregulated and the fall out from lack of regulation will be left for the Ontario SPCA to deal with.

After so many similar kinds of discussions and consultations on the wildlife in captivity issue, going back almost 30 years in this province, we find it remarkable that your announcement took so long to be made and that it was devoid of substantive measures to address wildlife in captivity issues.

The key points discussed that needed to be implemented to deal with this issue, and that were generally agreed upon by the NGOs attending your consultation, were entirely absent from your announcement. I will describe them below.

1. The key component of any wildlife in captivity regulatory system is an upfront licensing/permitting regime for all zoos, aquariums, private menageries and wild animal collections. Anyone wanting to acquire wild animals or establish an animal collection should be required to meet a set of criteria prior to a license/permit being approved. The license/permit serves as a filter to weed out the bad and irresponsible operators, rather than letting them establish their businesses and/or personal animal collections, letting them fester and then leaving it to a private charity to deal with the fallout. License/permit revocation is then also available as a sanction for dealing with those facilities who will not or can not maintain acceptable standards over the long term. The suggestion that a voluntary registration program and spot inspections for non-registering facilities will be sufficient is naïve and will do little, if anything, to control the proliferation of wild animals in captivity in Ontario. Anyone will still be able to acquire animals, open a captive facility or keep exotic wild animals as pets. As well, the Ontario SPCA already has the authority to enter zoo premises, without a warrant, to conduct inspections.

2. Comprehensive, enforceable standards for the operation of zoos, aquariums, private menageries and animal collections or for the housing, husbandry and care of wildlife in captivity are essential. The current standards under the Ontario SPCA Act are brief, non-specific, highly subjective, inadequate and, in some cases, unenforceable. Your announcement did not include any mention of more comprehensive standards for wildlife in captivity in Ontario.

3. Although NGOs at your consultation agreed that a prohibition on the keeping of whales and dolphins was warranted and in step with other progressive jurisdictions around the world, your announcement merely stated that experts would be consulted and a set of standards developed and publicized sometime in 2014. There was no information about who would develop the standards or what they would be based on. The concerns about marine mammals in Ontario and the voices of tens of thousands of Ontarians who spoke out have been largely ignored. What is particularly alarming is your statement that regulatory standards will consider the economic and tourism impact on affected communities.

4. Your announcement made no mention of a prohibition or any controls whatsoever on the keeping of dangerous wild animals, such as big cats, bears and giant constricting snakes. Any citizen of Ontario will still be able to buy these animals for personal amusement purposes, impacting animal welfare and endangering family, friends and community members.

5. NGOs at your consultation agreed that transparency and accountability were integral to any regulatory scheme to make it more effective and to create public confidence and support for it. There will be no change to the current system whereby members of the public find it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain information about “official actions”.

6. Whistleblower protection was another important issue that was discussed in your consultation. However, whistleblower protection that would encourage the very people who are best positioned to report on animal abuse and neglect, compassionate staff and volunteers at animal facilities, was not even mentioned. Instead, those brave individuals who do speak out to help animals will continue to be faced with intimidation and legal threats by the facilities who keep animals.

As you know, Ontario has a proportionately greater number of zoos, menageries and aquariums than any other province in Canada and that situation is due, in large part, to the fact that wildlife in captivity facilities have never been properly regulated. Your announcement will not change that situation.

You probably already know that support for increased oversight and regulation of Ontario’s zoos, menageries and aquariums is very strong. A 2013 Nanos poll found 83% of Ontarians support regulation, while a 2012 Broadview Group poll showed 82% support and a 2010 Oracle poll showed approximately 90% support. Other polls indicate similar levels of support.

We strongly encourage you to revisit this issue. You stated repeatedly over the past year that you were committed to doing whatever has to be done to address the wildlife in captivity issue in Ontario. The tens of thousands of Ontarians who spoke out on this issue deserve better and, it should go without saying, the animals do too.


Rob Laidlaw
Zoocheck Inc.