‘Free Willy’ bill starts its journey through the Commons

By . Published on Oct 29, 2018 4:54pm

The “Free Willy” bill is finally swimming in the House of Commons.

After spending nearly three years in the Senate, the bill that would end whale and dolphin captivity in Canada had its first reading this afternoon, introduced by its sponsor, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

Bill S-203, the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, cleared the red chamber last week. It had been first introduced by former Sen. Wilfred Moore in December 2015. In addition to banning captivity, it includes a grandfather clause for those animals already in facilities in Canada and permits legitimate research, as well as the rescue of animals in distress. It would also ban the trade of reproductive materials, but nothing in the bill criminalizes the conduct of researchers.

Sen. Murray Sinclair took on sponsorship of the bill when Moore retired in January 2017.

May thanked both senators for bringing the bill forward and urged her colleagues in the House to work “collaboratively and co-operatively” to pass it before the next federal election.

”It will do what scientists tell us must be done,” she said.

Earlier in the day, May held a press conference alongside NDP, Liberal and Bloc MPs, looking to make clear “that this is a non-partisan issue.”

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel has also spoken in favour, and has urged colleagues who were holding up the process in the Senate with procedural delays to let it go to a vote.

Bloc MP Mario Beaulieu threw his party’s support behind the bill, as did NDP MP Don Davies, who represents the riding of Vancouver Kingsway.

While happy to hear of the Vancouver Aquarium’s plan to no longer keep cetaceans, other than emergency rescues and Helen, a Pacific white-sided dolphin, he said the issue can’t rely on voluntary codes.

“We need the face of federal law to make this important and profoundly necessary change.”

He said captive cetaceans experience isolation, shortened lives, abnormal behaviour and high infant mortality. Citing numbers from Ontario Captive Animal Watch, Davies noted that 20 orcas have died prematurely at Marineland in Niagara Falls since 1973, which is “one of the worst records in the world.” Evidence suggests even the best-intentioned facilities “cannot provide for the social and biological needs of these intelligent and acoustically sensitive marine mammals.”

“Confinement and social isolation are used as punishment for humans. When our species is kept in small indoor spaces without any control of our environment or food sources, we experience profound psychological harm. It’s clear that the same negative impacts occur for these highly intelligent creatures. Frankly, it’s cruel,” Davies said.

“Cetaceans require social interaction and sufficient space to maintain their physical and psychological well-being. We simply cannot justify inflicting this needless suffering for our own entertainment. It’s time to do the right thing.”

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said that for one segment of the population, in particular, this is a no-brainer.

“Kids get this,” he said. “The number of letters written to MPs and senators from kids across the country is incredible, (as are) the drawings they have submitted. They understand this very simple but powerful idea that (when) animals think and feel, they deserve to be treated humanely, respectfully and with compassion. That’s exactly what bill S-203 will do.”

‘Free Willy’ bill starts its journey through the Commons

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