On Friday the Ontario government introduced what it is calling the first steps in regulatory reform to protect animals in zoos and aquariums across the province. The changes were introduced by Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur whose portfolio is responsible for the OSPCA.
“Our government cares very deeply for the well-being of animals wherever they live in this province” said Meilleur.
The changes include a huge funding boost for the OSPCA of 5.5 million dollars annually (up from the previous $500,00 contributed by the province ) and will be used to create a team of specially trained investigators who will inspect the province's zoos and aquariums. The government will set up a voluntary registry and "real surprise" inspections are to take place twice yearly. There will also be a hotline system put in place where people can report animal abuse 24 hours a day to dispatch OSPCA officials to investigate complaints.
Currently the OSPCA does not have special training to deal with marine mammals located at facilities like Marineland and investigators will get special training. There are also no standards of care for marine mammals by which to enforce rules. The province will rely on a team of experts, expected to be headed by marine biologist David Rosen of the University of British Columbia, in drafting new standards of care for marine mammals in captivity. This is due in June 2014 and once adopted will be enforced by the OSPCA.
Marineland spokesperson Ann Marie Rondinelli told the Toronto Star newspaper that the park would "absolutely" sign up for the voluntary registry.
Anti captivity advocate Mike Garrett was less than enthusiastic about Friday's announcement.
"While I applaud the long overdue funding boost to the OSPCA it is still an organization that operates in secrecy. The results of their inspections and investigations are not made public and there is little oversight of their actual operations, this needs to change."
In regards to the care of marine mammals Garrett thinks the government missed the mark.
"We know that no facility no matter how large can properly replicate the natural environments for marine mammals. There are no standards of care that the government can come up with that will convince me they will be better cared for in captivity. It was within Madeleine Meilleur's power to introduce a total ban or a phase in ban on keeping marine mammals in captivity in the province. She has failed to introduce such progressive reform that other jurisdictions already have."
"Twice yearly inspections don't prevent John Holer from going out and capturing more whales" Garrett added.