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Senator Plett Motions for a Sub-Amendment to Senator Tannas' Amendment to Bill S-203


On Debate- Senator Tannas' Amendment (Bill S-203)

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Senator Tannas’s amendment. I also want to welcome Senator Moore to the chamber.

I find it strange and rather unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation in which we have been told today that we would be denied adjournment on this bill. The now sponsor of this legislation did not move third reading until over a month after the committee report was adopted by this chamber, and only the week before last. This was timed in conjunction with two film crews who are supporting this legislation being on Parliament Hill to film and document the occasion.

Colleagues, this was the day third reading was moved, and we were encouraged to let this legislation come to a vote on the same day, at which point I explained that we do not base our proceedings in this chamber on when film crews are here to help with their documentaries.

It is no secret that I have been opposed to this legislation since its inception. As a critic, I undertook to do my homework on this issue. Unlike the original sponsor of this bill, I thought it appropriate to at least speak with representatives of the two organizations who are affected, and I even visited both institutions. Again, this courtesy was not afforded by the previous sponsor and architect of this bill. I met with people on both sides of this issue, and it became very clear to me that this was a battle between activist and scientist, and that this was an activist-driven bill and nothing more.

Colleagues, as you know, the government introduced Bill C-68 in February. This was a carefully thought-out bill which directly addresses the issues we are facing. Bill C-68 bans wild capture of cetaceans, save for some circumstances surrounding injury and rehabilitation. But the government did not trample all over provincial jurisdiction by attempting to rewrite Ontario’s animal welfare standards as this bill seeks to do. If the government wanted to go further or felt it was appropriate to go further, they certainly would have done so.

When Minister LeBlanc was here for Question Period, I raised this with him. I told him that I believed that Canadians support the principle of banning the wild capture of cetaceans. However, there are those, including the American activist who initiated this bill and, closer to home, Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who believed this measure should go much further, including preventing cetaceans from breeding while in human care and preventing reputable, state-of-the-art aquaria from ever displaying cetaceans.

On the flip side, our committee heard from acclaimed veterinarians, scientists and marine biologists who have said there is absolutely no danger to allowing these social animals to interact and to breed, nor is there any concern with allowing humans to view properly cared for cetaceans, especially as it has the ability to connect humans with cetaceans in such a profound way.

I asked the minister whether he believed that his government had struck the right balance. He indicated that, yes, he did believe the right balance was achieved, and the minister said he had consulted with colleagues in this chamber and in the other place regarding how to get this balance. He then stated:

Since we were presenting amendments to strengthen and modernize the Fisheries Act, I thought one of the things we could do, certainly, is to put the intention of what Bill S-203 was seeking to achieve into the Fisheries Act.

So we have done and allowed that.

He later raised the constitutional issue that I first raised at second reading, which, while it may be inconvenient for some, is unavoidable. The minister noted, and again I quote:

A number of provinces — mainly the Province of Ontario, of course, with respect to Marineland — have jurisdiction with respect to some of the practices that take place there. I am conscious not to impede on provincial jurisdiction around animals that may currently be held at facilities like that.

Colleagues, many of the proponents of this bill, the American activists and a few Canadian activists, routinely cited Kiska and her poor health as a reason to suggest Marineland’s care standards are subpar and that cetaceans in human care are inevitably suffering. Kiska is the sole orca in human care in Canada and has lived for years at Marineland. There has been no capture of an orca in our country since 1975.

Orcas have an average life expectancy of approximately 30 to 50 years, and Kiska is 41. The experts who testified at committee who have studied her well-being, including independent internationally recognized expert Dr. Lanny Cornell, said she is in great condition. Some of the activists pointed to dental decay as a sign of poor well-being. There is no evidence to support this claim. Kiska at her age is the equivalent to a human in their eighties. However, the housing of orcas in human care is a non-issue in the context of Canadian public policy. As I said, Canada banned the wild capture of orcas in 1975, and Kiska is the only remaining orca in human care in Canada.

Ontario’s laws prevent Marineland from bringing in a partner for Kiska for socialization purposes, and every expert who has weighed in has said with certainty that Kiska will die if she is moved. Marineland’s hands are tied. This cannot be disputed.

Some of these activists who have been touted as experts, many of whom are American activists, have stated on various occasions that whales, dolphins and even pigs should be given persons’ rights under our law. Colleagues, these are radical activists.

Another activist who testified at committee, calling himself the Marineland whistle-blower, has admitted in court to taking drugs intended for marine mammals for his own personal consumption. The credibility of these star witnesses certainly needs to be considered when we weigh the evidence.

On the other hand, we heard from scientists and marine biologists about the benefits of housing cetaceans in human care for the well-being of cetaceans, for the research generated that can and has been applied to cetaceans in the wild, and the ability to connect cetaceans with humans.

Marineland is subject to routine surprise inspections. When the activists made unfounded claims about animal abuse of marine mammals to the Government of Ontario, the Ontario SPCA, the Niagara Falls Humane Society, independent experts from the Vancouver Aquarium, the Calgary Zoo experts, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, the Minister of Labour for Ontario and an entire team of independent outside experts from the Government of Ontario all conducted investigations at Marineland.

As Senator McInnis pointed out, after the entire process, which took well over a year, not a single charge was laid by anyone in relation to any marine mammal at Marineland — not a single charge, colleagues. That is not an opinion. This is indisputable.

As is well documented publicly, Marineland is subject to routine unannounced inspections from the OSPCA’s inspection teams. Every single animal was looked at, as were all the medical records and all of the facilities. No problems have been found — zero. Again, this is not an opinion; this is a fact.

Senator Tannas has already done a great job of explaining the outstanding work of the Vancouver Aquarium, but allow me to remind colleagues of the extensive process in Ontario that has already taken place and the regulations under which Marineland is covered. This proposed legislation has arisen out of and in direct response to a three-year legislative process in Ontario commencing in 2012, leading to new Ontario provincial legislation and regulation directly governing the care of marine mammals. This provincially enacted legislation rejects what is proposed by this bill.

After lengthy public debate in Ontario, including the creation of an independent and international scientific advisory panel and receipt of its comprehensive report, the creation of a technical advisory group composed of stakeholders from across the country and public hearings, provincial legislation has been passed in Ontario that expressly permits keeping marine mammals in human care and creates and implements stringent regulations regarding the care and treatment of marine mammals — some of the most stringent standards in the world, colleagues. That lengthy and full democratic process in Ontario over the course of three years specifically considered and rejected precisely what this bill now proposes to do.

The very arguments made in support of this bill were considered at length, studied and rejected in a thorough legislative and independent scientific review process in Ontario.


As I have stated before, what a small number of activists could not persuade the Ontario legislature to do, they now seek to persuade this Senate to agree to in this bill and impose on the entire country.

Not only is this bill constitutionally unsound, it also fundamentally represents a complete negative departure from over a century of integrated Canadian and international wildlife policy, and legislation that has guided every provincial and federal government since Confederation, and which today informs international treaties and efforts to preserve and protect our natural environment.

Colleagues, I will not go into all of the expert testimony that we heard at committee regarding cetaceans in human care, which is counter to the activists’ claim. I will save that for another speech in which I will have more time. However, I will leave you with a couple of short quotes from Dr. David Rosen, a renowned marine biologist from UBC who stated unequivocally:

. . . there is no scientific evidence the cetaceans inevitably suffer psychologically or physically by being held in well-maintained aquariums . . .

He also stated:

. . . Canada’s zoos and aquariums are among the most modern in the world. Canada is also a leader in coordinating global research efforts to improve the science of animal welfare.

Colleagues, this attack on these two renowned Canadian institutions is misplaced. The Ontario government’s regulations, which we are now seeking to supersede, unconstitutionally, stipulate that appropriate light exposure, environmental enrichment programs and the guarantee of no harm to marine mammals in their contact with the public are paramount. Marineland adheres to all these standards unequivocally and unarguably. The Chairman of Niagara Falls Tourism testified in front of our committee and outlined the absolutely disastrous impact this would have on the economy of Niagara Falls. He mentioned that 54 per cent of rooms rented in the Niagara area in one year were because of visits to Marineland. There are 800 jobs on the line.

He stated, while pleading with our committee:

Without Marineland, we would have some serious problems.

If this flawed legislation is to move forward with Senator Tannas’s amendment, I believe it would be irresponsible and simply wrong to proceed without a further exemption for Marineland.

          Motion in Subamendment

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Therefore, honourable senators, in amendment, I move:

That the motion in amendment moved by the Honourable Senator Tannas be amended, in paragraph (b), by adding “Marineland of Canada Inc.” after “The Ocean Wise Conservation Association (Vancouver Aquarium)”.

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