The Canadian Government Officially Bans Cetacean Captivity and Breeding

~In a historic win for marine-life defenders, the Canadian House of Commons bans the future captivity of whales, dolphins, and porpoises~

Written by Lauren Wills

Photos by Lina Grube

World, take heed of Canada: the nation making a name for itself not merely for its impressive hockey record and internationally sought-after maple syrup, but for its admirable stance against cetacean captivity.

In a legislative scheme dubbed the “Free Willy” bill, Canada has officially banned the captivity and breeding of whales, dolphins, and porpoises, as well as prohibiting their use in performances for human entertainment. 

The legislation, officially named the Ending of Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act (Bill S-203), was first introduced in December 2015, and overwhelmingly passed its third reading in the House of Commons this Monday, following years of inquiry into the ethics of marine parks.

While hardcore animal rights activists may consider that these amendments to the Criminal Code do not go far enough (cetaceans already held in captivity will remain there, and can be retained for rehabilitative or scientific purposes) the legislation must be recognised as pioneering. The act outlaws the import and export of the marine animals, imposes a fine of up to $200,000 for those found breaking the new laws, and also seeks to bolster the regulation of Canada’s most controversial marine park, Niagara Falls-based Marineland. 

Arguably failing to understand the ethical significance of the act, the park defended itself to CBC News, maintaining “Bill S-203 does not impair the operations of Marineland,” and claiming that it will “continue to prove world-class care to all of its animals.” Elizabeth May, the nation’s Green Party’s leader and MP for the Saanich-Gulf Islands, commented that the organisation is mistaken in its understanding of the legislation, which she says “very clearly” stresses that holding cetaceans in tanks is cruel. She, among other advocates, hope that the venue’s imprisoned animals – including more than 50 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins, and one orca – will in time be rehomed to sanctuaries. 

Despite Marineland’s attempt to diminish the impact of the bill, the change in policy was lauded by the Green Party, which shared a statement on Twitter reading, “These intelligent, social mammals will now get to live where they belong – in the ocean.” May added in a press release, “Canadians have been clear, they want the cruel practice of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity to end. With the passage of Bill S-203, we have ensured that this will happen.”

Photo by Lina Grube

Rebecca Aldworth, the executive director of Canada’s Humane Society International (HIS/C), agreed that the legislation is “a watershed moment in the protection of marine animals and a victory for all Canadians who want this to be a more humane country.” She went on to add, “Whales and dolphins don’t belong in tanks, and the inherent suffering these highly social and intelligent animals endure in intensive confinement can no longer be tolerated.” Senator Wilfred Moore, who sponsored the bill, concurred that “We have a moral obligation to phase out the capture and retention of animals for profit and entertainment.”

As well as securing the support of the general population, the legislation boasted the backing of more than 20 leading marine scientists and stakeholder organisations. Among its endorsers were HIS/C, Animal Justice, Ontario Captive Animal Watch, the Jane Goodall Institute, World Animal Protection, and the former head trainer at Marineland, Phil Demers. Demers, who has spoken out about the abusive nature of marine parks, dubbed the passing of the bill a “historic day for Canada.” Accordingly, Aldworth congratulated “the sponsors of this bill and the Canadian government for showing strong leadership in responding to public will and sound science on this critical issue.”

Indeed, Canada is spearheading the marine conservation movement. Two major Canadian airlines, WestJet and Air Canada, recently ended their partnerships with SeaWorld following public unease at the treatment of captive marine animals, while the nation prohibited ocean drilling, mining, dumping, and bottom trawling (a method of industrial fishing) earlier this year in a bid to create protected areas of the ocean. In a statement, the Honourable Catherine McKenna explained, “Canada is an oceans country. We are the stewards of the longest coastline in the world. Protecting Canada’s nature and the health of our oceans benefits our communities, our ecosystems, and our wildlife.” 

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