Third reading speech for Bill S-203, Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphin Act

I thank those members who are applauding this historic day. I speak for myself and for many Canadians from coast to coast to coast when I say we are very grateful for the assistance of the hon. Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the assistance of the hon. Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the assistance of their parliamentary secretaries in assisting this bill to get through this place after its long, long, long gestation in the Senate. We are extremely grateful for that support to expedite the passage of this bill so that it can receive royal assent before this House adjourns for the summer and the election.

I am only going to canvass briefly the elements of the bill; I think we are all very familiar with it.

It was started in the Senate, where it was sponsored by an absolutely terrific Canadian who would make the case that we should change mandatory retirement at age 75 for members of the Senate.

Senator Wilfred Moore of Nova Scotia brought this bill forward in 2015. On his retirement, it was taken up by another magnificent and inspiring leader within this country, former jurist Senator Murray Sinclair. All of their work and all of the witnesses in the long hearings before the Senate made the same point over and over again: In the 21st century, we simply know better than to think cetaceans belong in captivity. We can no longer pretend that the entertainment value of these magnificent, sentient creatures in swimming pools anywhere in Canada is acceptable.

Parallel to our efforts on Bill S-203 is a very good bill, Bill C-68, from the former minister of fisheries, the hon. member for Beauséjour. It is is currently before the Senate, and we certainly hope will pass soon. To him, I once again want to underline my deep thanks for all of his work as minister of fisheries.

Bill C-68, would make it illegal to take a cetacean into captivity in Canadian waters. Bill S-203, finishes that piece and makes it comprehensive by adding that we will not breed cetaceans in captivity, nor will we buy cetaceans from other countries and keep them in captivity.

We are listening to the science and taking the appropriate actions.

I want to thank other people who have played a significant role in seeing this largely non-partisan effort, supported by thousands and thousands of Canadians, come to this point.

I want to thank the hon. members for Courtenay—Alberni, New Westminster—Burnaby, Beaches—East York and Pontiac; the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard; the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard; the members for West Nova, Avalon, and Charlottetown, and the member for Repentigny from the Bloc Québécois. There was help from members on all sides of the House, including the party that did not support the bill; there are individual members of that party who were very helpful.

The NGO community has been very helpful in assisting the process by networking with good scientists and also making sure the community of Canadians concerned with cetaceans received assistance. That community includes Animal Justice and its spectacular lawyer, Camille Labchuk; the Humane Society of Canada; Humane Society International; Ontario Captive Animal Watch; Animal Alliance of Canada; World Animal Protection; and The Whale Sanctuary Project. Assistance also came from scientists Dr. Lori Marino; Dr. Ingrid Visser, who testified by video link all the way from New Zealand; Dr. Naomi Rose; Dr. Hal Whitehead, of Dalhousie University; and Phil Demers.

All of these scientists, NGOs, individual elected Canadians and those from the unelected other place worked diligently and did their homework with one aim only: to end a practice that we all know is wrong.

It is a great honour for me to have overseen this private members’ bill. It is a great honour.

I am surprised by the tremendous support that this bill has received across Canada. At this time, I would like to say just one thing: thank you.

I thank everyone involved and am in their debt, as are our wonderful free whales. Although it was certainly an accident of fate and Parliament that the bill was brought forward by Senator Wilfred Moore, I will say once more “Free Willy”.

Having had a chance to look at my list, I am mortified that I had not said the correct riding of someone who played a huge role, and that is the hon. member for Port Moody—Coquitlam. I want to ensure that is on the record.

The science increasingly tells us that it constitutes cruelty to animals to take these cetaceans and keep them in confined spaces. They communicate as families. They communicate as communities. They use language. The communication requires space and range. They are creatures that travel enormous distances. Part of the health of the animal requires being able to function in community.

We saw it in the wild this summer when one of the members of our southern resident killer whale population gave birth to a calf that died almost immediately. The mother of that whale pushed her calf through the water on her nose, keeping it above the water, although dead, for an astonishing 17-day period of mourning.

It is certainly not possible to imagine that these creatures could live in swimming pools. The science is clear.

It is a difficult thing. When this bill came forward, two facilities in Canada held cetaceans in captivity. Vancouver Aquarium quite rightly made a decision voluntarily, which was very controversial within decisions made by the Vancouver city council, that it would no longer hold cetaceans in captivity. However, Marineland has taken a different approach, which is to fight the bill tooth and nail.

I hope Marineland can adjust its business model. It is a fantastic tourist attraction. It is in a perfect location. I am not a marketer, but if I were, I would suggest it talk to the people at Cirque du Soleil. I would suggest it convert that swimming pool for whales, which is a cruel living condition, to brilliant acrobats dressed as mermaids, cavorting on trapezes up and down, and attracting crowds like they have never seen before. Then we can all say with big smile on face: “Everyone loves Marineland”.

To my dear friend from Niagara Falls, I would say that Bill C-68 is a terrific piece of legislation. It does ban the taking of whales from Canadian waters, but it does not speak to the pith, substance and core of this bill, which is that people cannot continue to hold them in captivity, cannot breed them for captivity and cannot keep whales in captivity.