Senate debates ban on keeping whales, dolphins in captivity

Marty McKendry

This exchange took place in Senate Question Period Oct. 2 as the result of a question on the captivity of whales and dolphins asked by Ottawa resident Caroline McNaught:

Hon. Wilfred P. Moore: My question today is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Leader, this note and question are from Ms. Caroline McNaught of Ottawa, Ontario, and she says:

Like me, many of you have likely heard of — if not seen — the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which details the suffering of captive killer whales in marine parks. Earlier this year, in response to that film, a California state legislator introduced legislation to phase out and eventually ban the keeping of killer whales in captivity.

In Canada, Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium currently keep over 40 whales and dolphins in captivity — including beluga whales, dolphins and a killer whale. These creatures are highly intelligent and social, and they ordinarily swim vast distances every day. Yet Canadian law currently allows whales and dolphins to be kept in pools to perform tricks for paying customers. Evidence has shown that this practice causes unjustifiable suffering, and that is why countries like Chile, Costa Rica, and India have banned the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity.

Many other countries have imposed restrictions on imports and exports, unlike Canada, which has minimal restrictions on imports and does not regulate exports, allowing the Vancouver Aquarium to loan belugas to SeaWorld in the U.S. for captive breeding.

The Mayor of Vancouver and Jane Goodall have now called for an end to keeping the whales and dolphins in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium, and The Toronto Star has been running an investigative report into the notorious conditions at Marineland.

My question, leader, it’s the question of Ms. McNaught: “Would this government support amending our animal cruelty provisions to phase out and eventually ban keeping whales and dolphins in captivity in Canada?”

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Thank you, Senator Moore, for your question. You too have the option of introducing a bill if you think something needs to be fixed and that some legislative measure could be the cause of the problem.

Our government is committed to protecting the environment. Since we formed government, we have created two national marine conservation areas, three marine protected areas, three national wildlife areas, two national parks and one national historic site. We believe that the creation of these marine areas and protected areas will really help protect other marine species that could be at risk, including the ones you mentioned.

Senator Moore: Leader, are you suggesting that the program of your government is to eventually ban keeping whales and dolphins in captivity and that they should be released in these wonderful natural parks that you’ve created?

Senator Carignan: The government’s position when it comes to the conservation of marine areas involves creating parks or marine protected areas that help protect marine species, including the whales you mentioned. Senator, if you think this situation needs to be corrected, you always have the option of introducing a Senate private member’s bill to take corrective action. The Senate could then examine it, as it does all other bills.

Senator Moore: I have a supplementary question. I realize that any senator can bring in a bill, leader. I’m asking you, what is the position of your government with regard to the eventual banning of keeping whales and dolphins, cetaceans, in captivity in Canada?

Senator Carignan: Senator Moore, the government’s legislative intentions are made public in due form as our bills are introduced. As you know, the details of the government’s legislative intentions are revealed either through the Speech from the Throne, delivered here in this chamber, or through the introduction of legislation.

You can check the government’s intentions by looking at the relevant legislative instruments.

Senator Moore: I recall the Speech from the Throne with respect to protecting marine-sensitive parklands — I guess we can call them that, that is, the real estate in the waters, but I’m asking about the cetaceans, the whales and the dolphins, and whether or not you would be prepared to include them in your environmental legislation and policies. Are you saying this will lead to a phase-out — not an immediate ban — but a phase-out and a ban of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity in Canada?

You may not have the answer to that today, but I don’t think the answer is to tell me to bring in a bill. I’m asking you about the policy of your government, and I respect what you’ve done so far. I think it’s going in the right direction. I’d like you to follow up on that and let me know, if you can’t do it today, what the policy is. Maybe it hasn’t been thought of. This issue has come to light in the recent past, so maybe you haven’t had a chance to look at it. If you have not, I understand, but I’d like you to take a look at it, come back and let us know what the policy of the government is with regard to that question.

Senator Carignan: As I said earlier, our government is taking action to protect the environment, marine areas and humpback whales. You’ve probably heard about the important decision — based on scientific data — that was made on the humpback whale population, which continues to grow. I’ve spoken about this already, because we are seeing a constant increase in the number of humpback whales. These whales remain protected as a result of solid provisions in the Fisheries Act and in the Species at Risk Act. Our government is also taking action by creating protected areas. If you believe that a piece of legislation can improve that protection, I invite you to introduce a private member’s bill so that we can debate it.