Cities and towns in this country are left on their own to wrestle with whether to allow circuses with animal acts or mobile zoos with exotic animals to hold performances or shows within their boundaries.
Only twenty-eight communities have instituted outright bans, the Sault, because of a flawed bylaw, only partially among them.
Toronto is the latest to take a look at how to address the problem. A Canadian Press story in The Sault Star on Monday revealed that mobile zoos operating in the Greater Toronto area have grown from five to about 70 over the past few years.
To deal with the issue, the city has launched a wide-ranging consultation on prohibited animals that involves an online survey for the public, as well as meeting with exotic animal businesses and animal welfare groups to address the significant rise in mobile zoos.
This, of course, is taking baby steps.
The proper course of action is to place an outright ban on any such outfit using animals in any capacity from being allowed to perform within the Greater Toronto area.
It shouldn’t take any consultation with any group to lead council to that conclusion.
If it is going to consult with any group, it should be the animals, the ones transported for a great portion of the year in tiny cages and who, when it comes to circuses, are beaten as a matter of course during training.
Actually it is time the federal government got into the act, initiating a nation-wide ban to take the onus off provincial governments and communities.
It wouldn’t be breaking new ground in making such a move. Many nations have already gone with complete or partial bans as shown in a list compiled by Animal Defenders International.
Cyprus, Greece, Malta, and Bolivia have nationwide bans on all animals in circuses; Croatia, Slovenia, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Singapore, Israel and Mexico have nationwide bans on the use of wild animals in circuses.
There is a mixture of bans in many other Countries.
The list shows Belgium, Bulgaria, and The Netherlands have nationwide bans on the use of most wild animals in circuses; Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Portugal, Sweden, and India have Nationwide ban on the use of certain species in circuses; and Estonia, Hungary, and Poland have nationwide ban on the use of native wild animals and wild-born animals in circuses.
Like in Canada, local bans on the use of animals in circuses are the norm in Ireland, Norway, Spain, UK, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Australia.
The issue of animal welfare that has surfaced in Toronto seems to mainly concern mobile zoos, brought about by their proliferation, a rise The Canadian Press says appears to be taking place across the country.
Toronto had a prohibited animal bylaw but it granted mobile zoos an exemption if they were accredited by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums and were located in an industrial zone.
It got rid of the ridiculous exemption in December but grandfathered in companies already operating in the city.
It is an exemption that remains in the Sault bylaw. The bylaw reads: “Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 2, nothing in this bylaw shall prohibit or restrict an educational display or program offered by an organization accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (now Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums ).”
However, that is the least of the problem in our bylaw. Intended to ban wild or exotic animals acts from performing in the city, it was passed in 2012 with a flaw that wasn’t caught then and has been ignored since.
The heading on bylaw 2012-213 says it is a “bylaw to prohibit wild or exotic animal exhibitions and performances in the City of Sault Ste. Marie.”
But Sec. 2, titled Prohibition, says, “No person shall operate or carry on a public show, exhibition, performance or circus in which a wild or exotic animal is required to perform for the amusement or entertainment of an audience in any municipally owned facility or on municipally owned property.”
You will note the heading says “in the City of Sault Ste. Marie,” but the actual prohibition is only in facilities or on property owned by the city.
The bylaw was drafted after staff perused one passed by the Town of Cobourg in 2004. However, the Cobourg bylaw was specific in that the ban on animal acts was within the town, not just in town facilities or on town property, the loophole that remains in the Sault bylaw.
The exemption that Toronto got rid of in regard to mobile zoos came into play here in 2014.
In May of that year Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo, a travelling zoo based in Ottawa that features reptiles, birds of prey and a lynx in shows where patrons can view and touch the animals, was allowed to appear at the city-owned John Rhodes Arena.
Matthew Caputo, at the time solicitor/prosecutor for the city, told me at the time that Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo would “likely” fall within the exemption.
“I have spoken to their representative in Ottawa and received confirmation that they are in fact accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (now known as Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums) and their displays are considered to be ‘educational’ in nature. As such, they would likely meet the exemption outlined in Bylaw 2012-213,” he said.
But he also said the bylaw ban does not apply to all reptiles but it does to some, “Crocodilians (such as alligators and crocodiles), Testudines (such as turtles, tortoises and terrapins) and all snakes” being included in Schedule A attached to the bylaw.
That being the case, and since Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo’s travelling operation featured all of the above, I do not believe it should have been allowed to appear in the city-owned John Rhodes arena.
What I do believe is that it is time council finally corrected our bylaw, bringing it up to its original intent which, like the one in Cobourg it was supposed to copy, was to ban all such operations from anywhere in the community.
Council should take out the reference to city-owned property, making Secion 2 conform to the preamble.
And, like in Toronto, it should get rid of the exemption that allows mobile zoos accredited by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums to appear here.
I find it strange that both council and staff, knowing for so long the contradiction that exists within our bylaw, wouldn’t have made a move to fix it.
It leaves one to wonder what else there might be in the bylaw library that is either out of date or, like this one, not quite right.
Doug Millroy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.