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Marineland: OSPCA welcomes more power from the province
STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR
The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals wants more funding and sweeping changes to its powers, saying it is handcuffed in its investigations by the current legislation and animals are suffering because of it.
With those new powers, the OSPCA would welcome government oversight, said Rob Godfrey, chairman of the board of directors,
"There is nothing hidden and there shouldn't be anything hidden," Godfrey told the Star Wednesday.
Godfrey's comments came after Ontario Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur announced wide-ranging plans to improve and strengthen Ontario's animal welfare laws, but the government's consultation won't be done until next spring.
Meilleur's announcement comes after a Star series on Marineland, in which former trainers and supervisors blamed lack of staff and poor water quality for ill health among animals at the Niagara Falls amusement park.
The minister proposed legislative amendments to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, regulations to protect marine mammals and the possibility of licensing zoos and aquariums in the province.
"The Marineland allegations are the eye-opener on the legislation . . . perhaps it is not as precise as it should be," Meilleur said at a news conference.
She added: "We are reviewing the OSPCA to make sure they have all the power to enter into and protect those marine mammals in the zoo and we wanted to review the governance of the OSPCA."
Last week, the OSPCA released an update about its investigation into Marineland that said it had "areas of concern where certain deficiencies exist."
Yet the agency appeared to qualify its investigation when it cited a section of the OSPCA Act: "It is important that the public understands that any animal found to be under the care of a licensed veterinarian is exempt under the OSPCA Act . . . and therefore is removed from the society's investigation."
"It handcuffs us," Godfrey said of that part of the Act. "If we walk into a place, whether it's Marineland or a non-SPCA shelter and a vet says, 'No, no that animal is under my care,' all of a sudden, that animal is effectively removed from the law."
"Would we allow that in our society for people? Would we make someone exempt from the law if they were under a doctor's care? No."
Godfrey would not comment on the OSPCA's ongoing investigation into Marineland, but stressed the need for more
Godfrey said the OSPCA has 134 inspectors across the province and more inspectors are needed, thus the request for more funding.
Meanwhile, Meilleur will conduct the consultation, which will include input from the public and animal welfare groups.
Meilleur said everything is on the table with respect to animal laws in the province. Right now, anyone could buy a tiger and a beluga and keep them in their backyard. Those rules, or lack thereof, will be examined, Meilleur said, as will the import and export of exotic animals, including marine mammals, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo was upset with the minister's announcement.
"We don't need more consulting, we need action," DiNovo said. "The animals in Marineland need action."
Former Marineland trainer Philip Demers is worried the government's announcement for more consulting is simply a stall tactic.
"I would say there's more than enough evidence out there to surmise and recognize the voids in the laws and the problems that currently exist," Demers said.
"The time for action is now. The more we delay, the more the government delays, the less likely I believe anything is going to happen."
The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which directed Marineland to "thoroughly update" its water quality protocols, welcomed Meilleur's comments and said it will reach out to the minister to help with the idea of licensing zoos and aquariums.
self-regulating association, which receives dues from parks such as
Marineland, offered the same help in 2008 when the province re-wrote the
OSPCA laws. The Liberal government rebuffed their overtures then.