|Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont. (Matt Day/QMI Agency file)
TORONTO -- Marineland and other facilities hosting marine mammals will go under the microscope as the Ontario government considers new rules for their care in captivity.
Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur, who's responsible for animal-protection legislation in the province, said Wednesday concerns raised about the care of creatures at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., motivated her to act.
"I will think about the standard of care -- do we have standard of care of these marine mammals? Should we have them in Ontario? And if yes, how should we keep them and how should we take care of them? It's all of this that we'll be reviewing," Meilleur said. "At the same time that I'm saying that, we all like to take our children to the zoo or to Marineland because it's also kind of an information exercise for them."
Meilleur said she will explore options for licensing zoos and aquariums, and consider legislative amendments to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) to improve enforcement and strengthen governance.
The OSPCA released a statement stating they support Meilleur's announcement.
"The Ontario SPCA is eager to receive the assistance of the government of Ontario in fulfilling its mandate to protect animals in this province," OSPCA chairman Rob Godfrey said. "While we need more information before we can react to specifics, we welcome the government's interest in fulfilling some of the recommendations in the Animal Welfare Task Force Report."
The task force recommended improvements in public health, the operation of shelters, and animal-worker health and safety.
Marineland released a similar statement, stating it welcomed the announcement.
"Marineland is fully supportive of the development of standards of care for all animals and the requirement for a provincial permit that would be based on inspections by professionals," read the statement. "Marineland looks forward to fully co-operating with the government in examining positive amendments to existing Ontario regulations and how they could be implemented."
Former Marineland trainer Phil Demers, whose public allegations about poor water quality for marine mammals, poor facilities and staffing issues led to inspections and public scrutiny of the park, attended the announcement.
Marineland has denied the allegations.
Demers, who quit Marineland in May, said he had "mixed feelings" about Meilleur's announcement and he's concerned about how she stood by the OSPCA despite there being "many flaws in that organization."
He said he plans to consult with the government to "hopefully move forward and enact some species-specific law."
"This will be a step forward when I see something being done," Demers said. "Lip service is one thing. It's action that I will celebrate."
NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo said the minister's response -- which promises more consultation and review -- falls short of the decisive action needed to protect animals.
"I was actually very disconcerted by what I heard," she said.
Tory MPP Peter Shurman said the OSPCA already has the tools it needs to take action on animal-safety issues.
"It would be nice before we create new regulations to take advantage of the ones that we have and see to it that they're being properly administered and enforced, and that animal life is being protected in Ontario," Shurman said.
Meilleur said she does intend to take a new look at OSPCA's powers and governance structure to ensure it can do its job.
** Amend OSPCA Act to improve enforcement, increase its powers
** Create new regulations to protect marine mammals in captivity
** Explore options for licensing of zoos, aquariums