Evidence of meeting #135 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was animals.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chair  Mr. Ken McDonald (Avalon, Lib.)
Blaine Calkins  Red Deer—Lacombe, CPC
Ingrid Visser  Founder and Principal Scientist, Orca Research Trust, As an Individual
Murray Sinclair  Senator, Manitoba, ISG
Adam Burns  Director General, Fisheries Resource Management, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Carolina Caceres  Manager, International Biodiversity, Canadian Wildlife Service, Department of the Environment
Hal Whitehead  Professor, Biology Department, Dalhousie University, As an Individual
Laura Graham  Director, WRG Conservation Foundation, As an Individual
Clinton Wright  Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, Aquariums, Ocean Wise
Andrew Burns  Legal Counsel, Marineland of Canada Inc.
Martin Haulena  Chief Veterinarian, Ocean Wise

3:55 p.m.

Senator Murray Sinclair

I agree with that.

3:55 p.m.

Red Deer—Lacombe, CPC

Blaine Calkins

People invariably see animals when they're at a zoo and when they're in a national park. Does that provide value to their experience?

3:55 p.m.

Senator Murray Sinclair

I don't know. I've been to national parks without seeing animals sometimes, but I understand your point.

3:55 p.m.

Red Deer—Lacombe, CPC

Blaine Calkins

All right. I'm not trying to be difficult. I'm trying to find a way for me to go ahead and support a piece of legislation that at the outset looks as though it could be flawed in some ways.

I'm a former park worker. I love animals. I dedicated a portion of my life as a conservation officer to protecting and conserving wild places and wild spaces. I know that a number of zoos, for example, have captive breeding programs. Take a look at Elk Island National Park, for example, in my home province of Alberta, which is unlike any other national park, yet a park fee still applies to that park. You can go in and see bison basically in captivity, because it's a fenced park. It's not a natural park where they are free to go wherever they want, and it's the same with the bison. Those bison from Elk Island National Park were used to establish a wild herd in Banff National Park.

I'm just wondering about precedence when it comes to the pieces of legislation.

I'm not going to argue or debate what people who know more about the science of cetaceans in captivity might do, but I'm here to discuss the merits of this piece of legislation.

4 p.m.

Senator Murray Sinclair

Right.

4 p.m.

Red Deer—Lacombe, CPC

Blaine Calkins

I'm wondering if these conversations came up in the Senate examination of this bill. Unlike Elizabeth May, I don't know if three hours in the House of Commons—the elected chamber—is enough to properly scrutinize the bill, notwithstanding that the Senate has done a thorough job. I'm not disputing that.

I am a little bit concerned that we're going to have three hours to examine this bill with witnesses without hearing from the minister, or without hearing from other people who we would normally hear from in a legislative process. I'm just trying to figure this out as the best I can in the time I have.

We have people who are willing to pay money to see animals in a national park. National parks have a mandate to protect and preserve species, even in captivity. If the legislation that we have before us today actually applied to elk, bison or anything like that, it would be a very different scenario, where zoos would have to apply for permits and apply for things that they would otherwise be able to do as a matter of normal business. No one's questioning the integrity of a zoo or no one's questioning the integrity of a national park, yet we're questioning the integrity of these other organizations that are providing entertainment. I'll get to my point about that as well.

When I took my family to go whale-watching once, we paid several hundred dollars apiece for the privilege of going out and taking a look at a whale in the wild. If I were to take my family to SeaWorld or something like that if I'm on a holiday, my family would have the same experience without actually disturbing any animals in the wild for a fraction of that cost. Children attending schools that would want to go to these things would be able to attend at a fraction of the cost if there happened to be one in the area.

Have any of these things been brought up in the Senate? What has the response been from those who want to defend this bill?

4 p.m.

Senator Murray Sinclair

Absolutely, it has been brought up.

Some interesting research was brought to the attention of members of the Senate committee. I've forgotten the name of the expert—perhaps Dr. Visser remembers. It was about the impact upon children who go to zoos and aquariums to observe animals and what that does to their sense of those animals. There's been some suggestion made in the research that their view of the animals becomes tainted by the fact that they see these animals in captivity versus seeing them in the wild. Dr. Visser is nodding her head, so I'm sure she's aware of the research.

The impact upon children seeing animals that are penned up and in captivity is generally not considered to be an all-that-positive view of things. There's no question that they see animals that they might not otherwise see living, but what they think of those animals afterwards is that they lose the sense of their validity as beings and part of creation.

4 p.m.

Red Deer—Lacombe, CPC

Blaine Calkins

Everybody is going to have an opinion when they see something, whether they like what they're seeing or what they're not—

4 p.m.

Senator Murray Sinclair

That's part of the research that was done on the impact on children.

4 p.m.

Red Deer—Lacombe, CPC

Blaine Calkins

Yes.

The Arabian unicorn was down to six animals and is now over 1,000 because of a captive breeding program. Now people can actually go into the wild and see them. Had they not gone through that captive breeding program there would be none, frankly, for anybody to see or to enjoy. At this particular point in time the Arabian unicorn would likely be extinct.

Again, I'll go back to my concerns with the legislation. I'm not concerned about the intent. I'm not concerned about what good is trying to be done here. I'm worried about the precedent. It's not like other elements of animal welfare in the Criminal Code, like cock-fighting, dog-fighting and actual human abuse of animals. One's definition of what constitutes abuse is what's actually in question here and whether keeping an animal in captivity is abusive. I don't know, I keep my dog in my house and nobody is.... They're different animals; there's different research and I get that.

I'm wondering about the precedent. As I read it, it doesn't allow for anybody to do anything like captive breeding unless they actually get a permit and they have to apply for a licence to do that. The exceptions that are here that allow somebody to actually be in possession would have to meet the test. For example, if something catastrophic were to happen to a pod of dolphins that need to be rescued.... I know that it says here that on the individual basis, an individual who has the custody or control of cetacean—that's an individual cetacean—“that is kept in captivity for the purpose of providing it with assistance”, but nothing about keeping a population or rescuing a population.

Has that been given any thought in the Senate?

4:05 p.m.

Senator Murray Sinclair

Absolutely.

We're not talking here about endangered species that are on the verge of extinction unless we put them into a captive breeding program. If we were, there would be a different piece of legislation in front of us to consider.

The reality is that these are animals that are thriving in the wild. They're living fulfilled lives in the wild, and we're taking them from their fulfilled existence and placing them into a contained environment solely—if not primarily—for the purpose of putting them on display so that people can make money off them. That's the reality we're trying to address with this bill.

4:05 p.m.

Red Deer—Lacombe, CPC

Blaine Calkins

So does a zoo.

4:05 p.m.

Mr. Ken McDonald (Avalon, Lib.)

The Chair

Thank you—

4:05 p.m.

Senator Murray Sinclair

No, a zoo does not do it for that purpose.

Dr. Visser.

4:05 p.m.

Mr. Ken McDonald (Avalon, Lib.)

The Chair

Please be quick, because time is up.

4:05 p.m.

Founder and Principal Scientist, Orca Research Trust, As an Individual

Dr. Ingrid Visser

Yes, absolutely.

I'd just like to respectfully point out that the price to go and see these animals in captivity is actually more than going to see them through many of the whale-watching companies around the world. That argument, then, is often null and void.

Also, in terms of abuse, we have documented extensive abuse of these animals. I am looking for the unicorn whale. I'm looking for that individual in all of these facilities that I've been to around the world that doesn't show through its own behaviour that it has been abused.

We have substantial scientific evidence that shows that these animals are severely compromised biologically, behaviourally and welfare-wise. In fact, Marineland Canada cannot meet a single one of the five freedoms, which is the absolute minimum we look at for welfare in animals in captivity or in your own home.

I think there has been a substantial amount of evidence provided by a number of different expert witnesses to the Senate. They have done an extraordinary level of background research on this, and I think they have presented it to you in a very robust manner.

Your arguments are very valid about these animals—the other species that have been bred in captivity for release into the wild. However, it's worth noting that no one in Canada is doing this.

Also, despite the fact that this is breeding going on at Marineland, those animals come from Russia from a depleted population, probably depleted because of the captures that were made there for the aquarium industry. Those animals are not going back to Russia. Most likely they can't be released into the wild, because they were born in captivity and they don't have the survival skills.

Dealing with a carnivore—like a fish-eating whale—is different from dealing with something like the oryx you were talking about or the bison that are herbivores. You need a different set of life skills—

4:05 p.m.

Mr. Ken McDonald (Avalon, Lib.)

The Chair

Thank you, Dr. Visser.

We've gone way over time, and hopefully you'll get to finish your statement through more questioning.

4:05 p.m.

Founder and Principal Scientist, Orca Research Trust, As an Individual

4:05 p.m.

Mr. Ken McDonald (Avalon, Lib.)

The Chair

Now we'll go to the NDP for seven minutes or less.

Mr. Johns.

March 18th, 2019 / 4:05 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It's a huge honour to be joining your committee. I've met many of you on our tour to the east coast to study the decline of the Atlantic salmon and the Atlantic cod.

I also want to thank my colleague from Port Moody-Coquitlam for his nine years sitting on this committee and the important work he's done advocating for our salmon and all of the species in our oceans.

I come here from a coastal community. I certainly understand the pressures on our oceans right now and on the species that live in them.

I want to thank retired senator Moore for bringing this forward and Senator Sinclair for continuing to pursue seeing this bill get adopted and this legislation passed.

Before I get started, Ms. Visser, I also want to acknowledge the tragedy that's happened in New Zealand. On behalf of the New Democrats, we send our condolences to all kiwis and Muslims in your country.

Maybe I will start with Senator Sinclair. This bill has had more than 17 meetings and 40 witnesses, I believe. Do you believe that this has been studied enough, that it's ready now to continue to move forward?

4:05 p.m.

Senator Murray Sinclair

My view would be that I can't imagine there being a new issue that couldn't have been raised or wasn't raised at the Senate committee hearings. The new issue that's being raised by Marineland about the potential criminality of baby whales being born after the legislation comes into effect could have been raised during the time the bill was before the Senate. It wasn't. Despite the three years that it was there, no one made mention of this fact, so I'd just consider it a delaying tactic.

The reality is that it's not going to result in any criminality, in any event.

The other reality is that I think that anyone concerned about what the research is going to tell you or what witnesses are going to say can take a look at the witness list that appeared before the Senate. It's as complete a list as you're ever going to see, including the owner of Marineland, who testified before the committee when he was still alive and talked about the impact this would likely have upon not only his business but his community.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Agreed. We know this bill shouldn't be a partisan issue. It's a moral issue. It's supported by science. Cetaceans in captivity suffer in a way that's not justifiable. Bill S-203 is a reasonable, balanced piece of legislation. We believe that as well. An amendment would likely push this bill in terms of the timeline. It wouldn't get passed.

Can you agree that delay might push this out?

4:10 p.m.

Senator Murray Sinclair

There's no question that if it comes back to the Senate with an amendment we have to consider, the delay tactics that have been used in the past to delay this bill from becoming passed through the Senate for three years will be re-employed. The committee structure that's in place over there favours those kinds of delay tactics. As a result, I think it's marking the bill for death if it gets sent back to us.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

I just wanted to talk a bit about the moral issue, a little away from the science. You and I, Senator, have a friend, Barney Williams, an elder from the Nuu-chah-nulth communities. Where I live in the Nuu-chah-nulth communities, they see the kakaw’in, which are the orcas, as the wolves of the sea, and they also see them as souls of themselves. This is very disturbing, to see cetaceans in captivity.

Can you maybe speak about indigenous lands and what you've heard from the indigenous communities?

4:10 p.m.

Senator Murray Sinclair

I commend you to the third reading speech that I gave in which I talked about that, because everything comes from one's perspective of creation and one's teachings around creation. In the Senate, I spoke about the fact that in our teachings—and this is true for several if not all of the indigenous groups across Canada—human beings were not placed upon the earth in order to dominate the earth and to exploit the resources of the earth. They were placed here to enable us to use them in balance with all other beings of creation.

While we recognize that as a predator species we have an obligation, for survival reasons, to depend upon other species to survive, in the doing of that, in the taking of those lives, we also have an obligation to take no more than we need and to take care of the spirit of that animal, to take care of our own spirit in the taking of that animal. It's a very unique perspective of things. I think it still resonates within many indigenous communities today.

All of us who come from a traditional perspective within indigenous communities often also draw upon the animal world for our spirit names. There is that strong connection to that part of the creation, and to the earth itself. That's not to say that we haven't learned and won't learn how to function within western society, but carrying those traditions and those teachings is an important part of our ability to function in balance throughout this creation.