Independent Sen. Murray Sinclair says his bill to ban the new captivity of great apes and elephants in Canada will establish “some of the strongest animal protection laws in the world.”
Not only does the proposed legislation have the backing of renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, it’s also been named in her honour.
Sinclair and Goodall both appeared virtually at a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday with Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith to discuss the so-called “Jane Goodall Act.”
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The bill, which the senator will introduce in the upper chamber, builds on the passage of another Sinclair bill last year to phase out dolphin and whale captivity for entertainment. Erskine-Smith will sponsor the bill in the House of Commons if it clears the Senate.
If passed into law, the “Jane Goodall Act” will:
- Ban the new captivity of elephants and great apes, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, “unless licensed for their best interest,” including conservation or non-harmful scientific research;
- Prohibit the use of such animals in performances, including elephant rides;
- Establish legal standing for the captive animals, allowing courts to issue orders to relocate them or to improve living conditions;
- Permit the government to extend protections to other captive, non-domesticated species, such as big cats;
- Prohibit the import of elephant ivory and “hunting trophies.”
If the bill becomes law, Sinclair said animals living in captivity before its passage will remain so. The bill is not “at odds” with credible zoos who seek to be partners in strengthening animal protections, he said.
There are 33 great apes in captivity in Canada, Sinclair said, including 18 gorillas, nine chimpanzees, and six orangutans.
More than 20 elephants live in captivity in Canada, he added, with many used in performances, such as at the African Lion Safari in Flamborough, Ont., where the animals are used for rides. A trainer at the wildlife park was injured in an elephant attack last year.
Though Canada already bans the sale of ivory from elephants killed after 1990, Sinclair says a “stricter ban” is needed because ivory can be difficult to date. Between 2007 and 2016, Canada allowed for the legal importation of more than 260 elephant feet and 400 elephant skulls, according to research from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
There are only roughly 400,000 elephants remaining on Earth, according to the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada.
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Sinclair, who served as the chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said during the press conference that his bill “reflects Indigenous values of respect and stewardship and our relationship to the natural world.”
He called Goodall “a hero to animals and animal rights advocates, to the environment and to my grandchildren.”
Goodall, who is best known for her groundbreaking, decades-long study of chimpanzees in Tanzania, called it a great honour to have the bill named after her. She said it is tremendously important to recognize the sentience of animals.
“Some people torture animals just because they are ignorant, they don’t understand,” she said. “Other people deliberately choose not to understand how they can feel pain and fear and distress.”
Goodall said passing Sinclair’s bill into law will show that Canada “is on the forefront of humane treatment of animals and understanding of animals, of realizing that we are here on this planet and we should be sharing the planet with the other animals.”
‘Be vocal and loud,’ MP says
Erskine-Smith said that the bill recognizes the “cruelty of captivity” and provides a clear legal pathway to protecting more animals in the future. Animals “think, feel, and love, and they deserve our respect and compassion,” he said.
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The Liberal MP said the last Parliament acted on behalf of whales and dolphins because Canadians wrote to their MPs and senators to demand it. That same level of advocacy is especially needed in a minority Parliament, Ersike-Smith suggested, to move the bill speedily through the Senate and House.
“Be vocal and be loud and let’s see this legislation become law in this Parliament,” he said.