Ontario is ready to strengthen its animal welfare laws, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Monday.
“My sense is we’re going to have to do something,” McGuinty said in response to six Marineland whistleblowers who presented a petition with nearly 77,000 signatures to Queen’s Park.
The premier’s pledge comes in the wake of a Torstar News Service investigation, where former trainers blamed chronic health issues among sea mammals, including the recent death of a baby beluga, on staffing shortages and sporadically poor water at the park.
“Laws need to be changed in Ontario, they need to be established so the suffering of animals no longer continues,” said Phil Demers, a former marine mammal trainer at the park who quit earlier this year.
Jim Hammond, a former land animal care supervisor at the park, choked up at one point on Monday, saying he failed the animals.
“Provincial regulations are necessary and that’s why we’re all here,” Hammond said. “We have to speak for the animals that cannot speak for themselves.”
There are no regulations regarding sea mammals or other animals in captivity in Ontario.
Cheri DiNovo, MPP for Parkdale-High Park, will bring the Change.org petition forward when the legislature sits Thursday. On Monday, DiNovo delivered the petition to McGuinty’s office.
“We need to get this government to act and act as soon as possible,” DiNovo said.
Rob Laidlaw, director of Zoocheck Canada, a national animal protection charity that organized the petition, said, “Right now in Ontario, anybody can open a zoo or aquarium or menagerie.
“You do not require a licence from a provincial government, ministry department or any agency whatsoever.”
The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Niagara Falls Humane Society and the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums are investigating allegations of animal suffering and neglect at the theme park.
It’s unclear if the reports will be released by the time Marineland closes for the year after Thanksgiving. CAZA inspectors gave Marineland owner John Holer a thumbs-up after its initial visit a week after Torstar News Service series broke in August — although it says its investigation wasn’t completed.
McGuinty said his minority Liberal government would be ready to move on tougher animal protection laws once the dust settles.
“We acknowledge the concerns expressed in that petition, but at the moment there’s an ongoing investigation,” he said.
“We think the responsible thing to do . . . is to wait for that investigation to be completed and see what recommendations come to the fore as a result of that, then make a determination as to what we need to do to further protect animals in Ontario,” added McGuinty.
Brad Dewar, an investigations and communications officer with the OSPCA, refused to discuss the ongoing investigation, but did embrace tougher animal welfare laws.
“The Ontario SPCA certainly encourages constant improvements to animal welfare laws and regulations and that’s something we certainly advocate,” Dewar said.
Demers and the others who came forward promised to keep the animals’ plight in the spotlight, regardless of the results of the investigations.
“We need these new laws. The animals need these laws,” Demers said. “The paycheque is gone, but our jobs remain for taking care of the animals.”