Jane Goodall Bill

Honourable senators, it wasn’t that long ago when taking a drive down Highway 7 west of here, just past Perth, would lead you to a little rest stop where you could feed Coca-Cola and ice cream to a pair of black bears confined in a roadside cage. The stop was one of many such enclosures during the 1970s meant to lure you off the road to grab a bite, either on the way to Ottawa for a vacation or heading home in the opposite direction. Snapshots of smiling young kids standing in front of the cages or feeding the bears dot the history blogs and the local museums in the villages where those pens once stood.

Societal mores and values change. In a lot of cases, visitors didn’t know or appreciate the neglect or deprivation those poor animals suffered.

But today, we do know. That is why this important bill, Bill S-241, is before us. It is a very wide-ranging bill, which, among other protections, limits captivity and provides additional protections to many species. It needs to be supported in this chamber.

Thankfully, the vast majority of those roadside attractions I just mentioned no longer exist, but several other types of animal confinement do, including roadside zoos, which house big cats, wolves and dangerous reptiles like crocodiles and pythons.

They also have bears. Bears have a special place in my heart, as anyone who has seen some of the artwork in my office will know. They also occupy a special place in the identity of our nation and within the cultures of many Indigenous peoples. The polar bear, for example, is respected by Inuit hunters as the most intelligent animal in Canada’s Arctic and as a symbol of the resilience, patience and determination needed to survive in that harsh climate. That is according to Inuvialuit and Nanuq: A Polar Bear Traditional Knowledge Study, authored in 2015.

The West Coast spirit bear, or Kermode bear, became an important point of debate in this chamber just three years ago during the discussion of Bill C-48, which banned tanker traffic from the northwest coast of B.C. Depending on estimates, there are only between 400 and 1,200 of those light-coloured bears left, all living in that part of our country. They are deeply important to the Indigenous nations living there. Like polar bears, spirit bears are especially adapted to their habitat. Their white fur makes them particularly suited to hunting salmon, because their white fur prevents them from standing out against the sky.

Then, of course, there are grizzly bears, who protect their cubs with an intensity that stands out among other species. The grizzly bear’s Latin name is Ursus arctos horribilis, which means “terrifying bear” — an appropriate moniker for an animal that is more likely to attack than flee when feeling threatened.

Of the many species this bill covers, bears need particularly large habitats to thrive. Captive polar bears, along with orcas and other cetaceans, suffer from more sickness and psychologically related illnesses than other animals kept in captivity, according to literature prepared by the Britain-based Bear Conservation. Bears are highly intelligent animals that can suffer mentally and physically while in captivity.

This bill solves a real and pressing problem surrounding their welfare.

In Ontario in past years, there have been media reports of attacks from other bears on cubs born in captivity. One Ontario zoo recently kept a black bear in a 25-foot by 25-foot enclosure for over 25 years. A representative of Zoocheck commented that it was probably the worst bear enclosure in North America. Before its death prior to the onset of the pandemic, that particular bear exhibited abnormal stereotypic behaviour like pacing and lying unnaturally still.

Bears have also been used on television and in film in Canada in recent years, and this bill would require a provincial licence for that activity.

In total, there are more than 25 zoos in our nation that continue to keep bears. Bill S-241 aims to protect them and others by limiting new captivity to justified situations with licensing requirements that protect their well-being.

The bill also prohibits the use of bears in performance for entertainment and grants them limited legal standing, allowing for court orders in their best interests, such as relocation with costs, if illegal breeding or performance were to occur.

As with Canada’s 2019 whales and dolphins law, the penalty for these summary offences would be a fine of up to $200,000.

Specifically, this bill attempts to protect these species by prohibiting the acquisition of new bears, including through capture or breeding, as well as through transfer, including imports and exports, unless licensed in one of three ways.

First, similar to the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, an organization could apply for a licence allowing captivity of its bears if it is in the bears’ best interests, regarding individual welfare and conservation.

For example, qualified persons could take in orphaned cubs or problem bears that have come in contact with people and pose a safety risk. Licences could also provide better homes for captive bears currently living in inadequate conditions.

Bear sanctuaries can still thrive under this bill. Opportunities exist to save bears and to provide further public education, and for some existing locations holding bears to evolve. The bill also provides that it is not an offence for anyone to help an animal in distress, to ensure no interference with rescues.

Second, an organization could become licensed to acquire bears for non-harmful scientific research. This would justify new forms of captivity that allow us to learn vital scientific information about bears. In this way, the law would not prohibit the collection of hypothetical data in captive conditions that could help wild polar bears survive, such as with the disappearance of sea ice. In all such licensing decisions, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and, in some contexts, the province, should consider the individual welfare and prospective importance and credibility of any research.

Third, an organization can acquire new bears if they are designated as a Jane Goodall act “animal care organization.” Such organizations must serve purposes aligned with animal welfare, conservation, science and public education objectives. This designation can allow credible organizations, such as Canada’s leading zoos, aquariums and sanctuaries, to conduct their operations without an undue administrative burden. This bill proposes seven zoos and aquariums as initial organizations.

Such organizations must continue to meet five transparent and accessible criteria to protect animals, including the highest standards of care, whistle-blower protection, responsible acquisition of animals and no circus-style shows or use of animals for performance in TV or film.

Of great importance, such organizations must also meet any conditions established by the minister on the basis of the best scientific and expert information after, of course, consultations. Such conditions could be specific to the species or a particular facility and could restrict breeding.

Senators, we need the Jane Goodall act to protect bears in the same way we need it to protect other animals on the list, including big cats, the subject of such controversy in the very recent past. It’s estimated that close to 40 zoos in our country keep big cats, while estimates for private ownership range between an astonishing 3,600 to 7,000 animals.

Bill S-241 is wide-ranging and groundbreaking in many other ways, and it would be a disservice to the bill to try to discuss its many facets in the short time allotted to me. Perhaps, though, it’s worth touching on a significant portion of the bill which grants limited legal standing to animals in criminal sentencing for captive offences, notably illegal breeding or use in performance.

While this standing is restricted because it applies only within limited proceedings — criminal as opposed to civil, which is in the provincial domain — it is still a significant precedent given that virtually no jurisdictions grant animals any standing whatsoever.

The practical effect of the bill could, for example, see the forced relocation — with costs — of all of a roadside zoo’s big cats if it were found that any of the zoo cats were to have been illegally bred. Similarly, if a proprietor were to stage an illegal whale show, the same could apply for the relocation of whales.

This new version of the Jane Goodall act also encourages the Government of Ontario to grant civil standing to Kiska, the lone orca at Marineland, and basically advocates for recognition of her rights as an individual.

I have been a strong advocate for a Senate whose role is generally circumscribed by sober second thought, amendment and representation of regional and minority views. There are times, however, when I believe it can lead, and this is one of those occasions, in part because this bill is also included in the ministerial mandate letter.

Moreover, Dr. Jane Goodall, former Senator Sinclair and now my colleague Senator Klyne have highlighted the urgent plight of our wildlife and how it squares with our goals for reconciliation. The bill is also widely supported by organizations and individuals from across the country, including the Coastal First Nations of British Columbia, where the spirit bear’s habitat is located. This is consistent with the history of these nations in protecting the great bears of the rainforest, the cetaceans of the sea and all other creatures in the temperate bioregion. They are also leaders, working with Canada and British Columbia, in advancing the largest network of marine protection areas in Canada’s Pacific Coast.

Let me close by saying there is also a spiritual element of respect inherent in this bill for the kindred spirit of all living things. Mahatma Gandhi once said the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. I think there is some truth in this. Protecting and respecting animals elevates our humanity. Neglecting them degrades it.

Discussing his own esteem for animals, the great humourist Will Rogers summed it up better than I could ever do. He said, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” Thank you.

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