'Free Willy' bill to end whale cap­tiv­ity in Canada

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - MAURA FOR­REST POST­MEDIA

OT­TAWA — After a tor­tu­ous process that spanned more than three years, a bill to ban whale and dol­phin cap­tiv­ity in Canada is set to be­come law.

Bill S-203, which will also out­law cap­tive breed­ing and the im­port or ex­port of whales, their sperm or em­bryos, was passed in the House of Com­mons Mon­day morn­ing.

“To­day’s a re­ally good day for animals in Canada,” Green Party Leader Eliz­a­beth May told re­porters at a press con­fer­ence in Ot­tawa, say­ing she was “re­lieved, grat­i­fied and ap­pre­cia­tive” the bill had passed.

Known as the “Free Willy” bill, S-203 was tabled by for­mer se­na­tor Wil­fred Moore in De­cem­ber 2015 and later spon­sored by May in the House of Com­mons. It has the sup­port of a num­ber of an­i­mal rights groups, but faced heavy op­po­si­tion from Con­ser­va­tive se­na­tors and barely made it through a House com­mit­tee in­tact.

Moore, who was present at Mon­day’s press con­fer­ence, said pres­sure from Cana­di­ans who sub­mit­ted thou­sands of emails and pe­ti­tions helped push the bill through Par­lia­ment. “It’s kind of a com­bi­na­tion of relief and joy here,” he said. “Canada is bet­ter for this.” Moore said he had been in­spired to ta­ble the bill after watch­ing the 2013 doc­u­men­tary Black­fish, which tells the story of Ti­likum, a cap­tive killer whale.

The new leg­is­la­tion al­lows for fines of up to $200,000 for any­one found to be keep­ing cetaceans in cap­tiv­ity, with ex­emp­tions for in­jured animals in need of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and for sci­en­tific re­search. The law does not ap­ply to animals cur­rently in cap­tiv­ity. Moore said he hopes those whales will even­tu­ally be re­tired to sea sanc­tu­ar­ies on the At­lantic and Pa­cific coasts.

Only two fa­cil­i­ties in Canada cur­rently keep whales: the Van­cou­ver Aquarium and Marineland, a theme park in Ni­a­gara Falls, Ont. Last year, after Van­cou­ver’s park board passed a by­law amend­ment ban­ning cetaceans in city parks, the aquarium an­nounced it would end its whale pro­gram. It cur­rently has just one cetacean left, a Pa­cific white-sided dol­phin named He­len that it hopes to move else­where for com­pan­ion­ship.

The new leg­is­la­tion, there­fore, will largely affect only Marineland, which breeds bel­uga whales and cur­rently has more than 50 in cap­tiv­ity. The com­pany fought against the new bill in the Se­nate, where owner John Holer tes­ti­fied in May 2017, be­fore his death last year, that Marineland has boosted tourism at Ni­a­gara Falls and em­ploys hun­dreds of peo­ple. A lawyer for the com­pany ar­gued be­fore a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee in March that the bill is un­con­sti­tu­tional be­cause Marineland could be found in vi­o­la­tion of the cap­tive breed­ing ban when whales who are al­ready preg­nant give birth. Marineland did not re­spond to the Na­tional Post’s re­quest for com­ment on Mon­day.

Moore said Bill S-203 faced in­tense op­po­si­tion from Con­ser­va­tive se­na­tors and was re­peat­edly delayed by pro­ce­dural tac­tics. “It was the ul­ti­mate abuse,” he said. The Se­nate fish­eries com­mit­tee held 17 meet­ings to study the bill and heard from more than 30 wit­nesses be­fore the leg­is­la­tion fi­nally cleared the Se­nate last fall. It then nar­rowly es­caped a threat in a House of Com­mons com­mit­tee this spring, when a Lib­eral MP de­cided at the last minute to with­draw planned amend­ments. Any change would have sent the bill back to the Se­nate for another vote, and with the clock run­ning out on the spring sit­ting, it might not have seen the light of day again.

DE­NIS CAHILL POST­MEDIA

The gov­ern­ment of Canada has passed a bill that would ban whales and dol­phins from be­ing kept in cap­tiv­ity. •

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