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  • Call for an inquiry into MNR's mismanagement of wildlife rehabilitation in Ontario
  • Challenging unworkable wildlife rehabilitation regulations

  • ! Call for an inquiry into MNR's mismanagement of wildlife rehabilitation in Ontario

    Sept. 17/03  Ontario Liberal candidates join leader in calling for an inquiry into government's closure of Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre. Press release.

    June 23/03  An open letter to the Premier of Ontario for an inquiry into the treatment of wildlife seized by the OMNR.  Read letter.

    We believe the two key issues, from a political perspective, are the need for an Inquiry and the need for Change. The former stems from the Tory-created fiasco that involves deception and breach of public trust, abuse of power and misuse of public funds with respect to wildlife issues in eastern Ontario. The latter represents the Liberal recognition of the problem and the commitment to modernize wildlife and environmental services so that they reflect community values and public opinion in Ontario.

    While an inquiry is essential to restoring any level of public trust or confidence, this is an excellent opportunity to not just identify yet one more government problem but to rectify it and to move forward in a positive new direction.

    Letter to Premier of Ontario

    An open letter to the Premier of Ontario makes a formal request for an inquiry into the treatment of wildlife seized by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in a controversial raid on the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre in September 2002.
    Read letter to Premier Eves.

    I. An Inquiry – The Animals that were Seized:

    •  
      Click here for information on 40 animals seized by the MNR
      Information on 40 seized animals
       
      Unjustified seizure:
      There was no justification for taking the animals that were confiscated by the MNR from the OCWC. They came from Ottawa where there has never been a case of raccoon rabies, they were fully vaccinated against rabies with a vaccine provided by the MNR, they had already been in quarantine for beyond any scientifically-proven incubation period and, as is the standard practice, would have been over-wintered at the OCWC
       
    • Inhumane captivity:
      Instead, the animals were taken to an MNR research facility where they were separated and kept in small cages in violation of basic humane practices as well as international standards for wildlife rehabilitation care – standards the MNR itself imposes on wildlife rehabilitators in Ontario!
       
    • They were kept in these unacceptable conditions for over seven months, three times longer than the longest-known incubation period for raccoon rabies
       
    • Requests made to inspect the animals and the facility by the OCWC and its veterinarians, the media and even a representative from the Canadian Council on Animal Care were turned down
       
    • Judge recommended rehabilitation before release:
      A justice of the peace, after hearing testimony from MNR and OCWC witnesses, indicated he felt it would be in the “best interest of the animals” to be returned to the OCWC for a brief period of rehabilitation before release given their compromised care. He indicated his regret that a legal technicality prevented him from ordering the animals be returned.
       
    • Premier Ernie Eves, made a commitment on an Ottawa radio show on April 28 to look into the matter immediately given the strong public concern about the MNR decision to release these animals without any rehabilitation or an independent assessment
       
    • Healthy animals released in rabies hot zone:
      In spite of this, the animals, nevertheless, were “released” a few days later to meet a May 1st deadline to which the MNR seemed obsessively committed but many saw was a “rush to get rid of the evidence”
       
    • It was later learned through a Kanata Kourier-Standard investigative report that these animals were released at “ground zero” in Edwardsburg-Cardinal Township where there are current cases of raccoon rabies and where animals are consequently being trapped and killed as part of MNR “depopulation” activities
       
    • Why would animals taken from Ottawa where there has never been a case of raccoon rabies be released into an area in another county where there are current cases of rabies? These animals were seized at great public expense and kept in the most inhumane manner for many months only to be released a hundred or more kilometers away from where they came and in violation of the Ministry’s own one-kilometer release restriction
       
    • The answer, we believe, is now clear. These animals were taken and used for research purposes. The MNR is a partner in a major grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada that identifies as part of the research activity schedule “the development of real time rt-pcr for rabies virus detection – this will involve using control samples that have been seeded with known amounts of viral RNA to assess limits of detection of this approach compared with the standard antibody approach. It will be then compared with the current rt-pcr approach”. The anticipated starting date was May 1, 2003.

    II. An Inquiry – Connected Issues:

    • The expansion of the raccoon rabies high-risk zone in July 2002 was unjustified, it was based on misrepresented facts, it has been totally discredited and is viewed by many as a serious breach of public trust.
       
    • Given that no human has ever died of raccoon rabies, the outlandish and unsupportable fear-mongering used by the MNR to promote its raccoon rabies program is an insult to the public’s intelligence and brings further discredit to the MNR and the government of Ontario
       
    • The killing of over 8,500 healthy wild mammals in eastern Ontario as part of the MNR “depopulation” activities is scientifically-unproven, costly and ineffective compared to states like Ohio which has become the “model” for raccoon rabies control.
       
    • The major Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grant to the MNR creates pressure to continue to “find” new cases of raccoon rabies and to rely on “depopulation”, increasing the focus on what has become an unprecedented slaughter in North America. One that will become more controversial and embarrassing to Ontario until it is stopped.
       
    • The orchestrated campaign by the MNR to close the OCWC and the high-handed treatment of community volunteers has meant the loss of a valued community service
       
    • A further loss is reflected in the significant public-private partnerships that took the OCWC so many years to build in delivering this community service and that have now been lost due to the actions of the MNR. The Ontario government allowed this to happen at a time when the federal government has recently signed an Accord with the Voluntary Sector, acknowledging the key role that it plays. An example of the partners lost is conveyed in a recent newsletter from the Alta Vista Animal Hospital. It had provided outstanding service in training young wildlife interns each year and in donating close to $150,000 of professional support over the years to the OCWC.
       
    • The closure of the OCWC has also meant that the City of Ottawa is having to face the social, health and financial consequences of the loss of a wildlife response service. The City, along with many community organizations, has been left to pick up the pieces. The MNR has created a crisis where none existed before and, as one City Councillor said, in referring to the MNR claim of wanting to protect human health, “the cure is worse than the disease”.


    ! Challenging unworkable wildlife rehabilitation regulations

    The McGuinty Liberals promised, prior to their election in 2003, to “reinstate progressive wildlife rehabilitation services in Ontario and to develop a new and improved working relationship between government and community volunteers in this regard”.

    In spite of these promises and thousands of submissions from wildlife rehabilitators and members of the public across Ontario, the regulations announced by the Ministry of Natural Resources in October 2005 will perpetuate the on-going crisis that has made it impossible to provide humane and responsible help for most orphaned and injured wild mammals in Ontario.

    In fact, under the McGuinty government, things have been made much worse for orphaned wildlife and for the public seeking help on their behalf. Here is why:

    1) Unworkable Release Restrictions: The Ministry’s proposed 15-kilometer release restriction for rehabilitated orphans is arbitrary and unworkable and is not based on any proven science.

    While it is fully accepted that adult wildlife should be returned to their familiar home territory, orphaned wildlife have no established territory as they are still within the nest or den when rescued. The majority of these orphans have resulted from the adult mother having been trapped and relocated, killed on a busy road or otherwise compromised because of extensive development. Putting young animals, after months of rehabilitative care, back into these situations would be irresponsible, giving them no chance of survival and would be severely and rightfully criticized by residents because of the impossible situation faced by the animals and the predictable human/wildlife conflicts it would also produce.

    Wildlife rehabilitators have consistently stated that the single most important minimal requirement for responsible rehabilitation is that orphaned animals be raised with others of their own species to learn proper conspecific social behaviours and that these animals be released in appropriate natural areas, with transitional care for those species who require it, generally within the city or county-of-origin.

    The Ministry well knows that a 15-km. release restriction for orphans ignores the fact that most large cities, where the majority of orphaned wildlife is found, have boundaries that stretch to 90 kilometers or more. The highly developed and busy inner core of these areas makes up to 30-40 kms. and has limited natural habitat that is a suitable distance from human development and traffic for responsible release.

    Furthermore, the 15-km. release restriction eliminates the vital role played by volunteers with suitable property who agree to provide the critical transitional care required by young animals as part of their release. The 15-km. release restriction also means that single animals would have to be raised alone, creating habituated “pets”, dependent on humans, which is the utter antithesis to responsible and humane wildlife rehabilitation.

    The Ministry has ignored the previous successful release practices that have never produced any human health concern in Ontario. It has ignored the successful practice in 22 U.S. states where the majority allow for “flexible release options for rehabilitatated orphans, whether that is within county-of-origin release or within suitable habitat”.

    The effect of the regulations is to create a climate in which the Ministry can maintain coercive control over rehabilitators by forcing them to refuse to take orphaned wildlife because they cannot rehabilitate them humanely, to raise and release young wildlife where they will have little chance of survival or to lie to Ministry officials about their activities in order to care for baby wild animals humanely.

    2) Inconsistent Application of Standards: The unfettered authority given to MNR area supervisors, including the approval, denial or cancellation of authorizations without any appeal process or recourse available to the rehabilitator, will eliminate equitable treatment of wildlife rehabilitators and produce an inconsistent application of standards across the province, resulting in a coercive and unfair system.

    There are currently gross inconsistencies in the application of the regulations between the different Ministry offices. Some districts have been only too happy to “look the other way” telling select rehabilitators that they “don’t have the resources to enforce the regulations” while other districts have carried out high-handed harassment campaigns against rehabilitators and required absolute adherence to the regulations.

    Why, when there is an increasing public demand for government transparency and accountability at all levels has such an obviously flawed and potentially corrupt system been put in place?

    It is essential that the Ministry of Natural Resources reverse this policy and establish a centralized and transparent custodial authorization process that ensures equitable treatment of wildlife rehabilitators and consistent application of the standards across the province.

    3) Lack of Appeal: The discretionary authority given to area supervisors and the lack of any appeal mechanism for wildlife rehabilitators to argue unreasonable decisions or, for that matter, to even be told what the decision is based on, means that rehabilitators have been stripped of their most fundamental rights, an unprecedented and fully unacceptable situation in any democratic society.

    The significant financial, legal and liability responsibilities assigned by the Ministry to wildlife rehabilitators in caring for wildlife are without parallel. And, yet, wildlife rehabilitators have been denied their rights in fulfilling these responsibilities.

    Sport and recreational hunters are licensed by the Ministry with far fewer responsibilities and, yet, they have access to an appeal and fair hearing process under the Fish & Wildlife Act. The Ministry is prepared to uphold democratic rights for those that kill wildlife but is not prepared to do so for those that care for wildlife. It is unconscionable that wildlife rehabilitation volunteers who take on such significant responsibility and who earn no compensation for serving wildlife and their community, should have to tolerate the elimination of their right to fair, equitable and respectful treatment under the Ministry of Natural Resources.

    Wildlife Custodial Authorization holders must be granted the same rights, including the full right of appeal, as is granted to licence holders under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act and Regulations.

    The Hypocrisy of Targeting Wildlife Rehabilitation: What exposes the very transparent deception in the Ministry’s professed concern about “protecting public health and the health of wildlife populations” is that only wildlife rehabilitation is targeted. The Ministry ignores or does nothing to enforce restrictions on wildlife removal companies or homeowners who annually trap and relocate tens of thousands of adult animals without any regard for the state of their health. Particularly, when minimal public education efforts by the Ministry (long recommended by rehabilitators) such as posting notices in stores selling traps about the legal restrictions on relocation could make a huge impact in deterring the practice. It would also substantially reduce the numbers of orphaned wildlife needing rehabilitation in the first instance, given that 60-70% of orphaned wildlife are “created” orphans by the trapping and relocation of the adult.

    Compared to the tens of thousands of adult animals relocated, there is an extremely small number of orphaned wildlife that are rehabilitated and released in Ontario each year. In fact, so infinitesimally small that wildlife rehabilitation serves only as a symbolic gesture that has little impact on the environment. It does, however, provide an important outlet and educational benefit for the growing number of people who recognize it is our substantial impact on the environment that has caused the need in the first place.

    Furthermore, there are no disease concerns with respect to rehabilitated orphaned wildlife. As the Ministry well knows, disease concerns are eliminated by the fact that orphaned wildlife are cared for under close observation by experienced rehabilitators, they are regularly tested and treated for parasites, they are vaccinated against diseases, they are regularly seen by veterinarians and they are kept beyond disease incubation periods. This ensures that the healthy young vaccinated animals that are released actually provide a disease barrier and contribute to the health of the general wildlife population.

    What this is Really All About: The public is no longer fooled with respect to the MNR agenda. It is increasingly clear that the regressive and unwarranted regulations imposed on wildlife rehabilitation in Ontario are due to the fact that the Ministry and its partners cannot attract multi-millions of tax dollars for rabies research, testing and operations unless they can maintain a high degree of public fear that raccoon rabies is a significant disease threat when, in fact, it is the lowest public health risk in North America, thanks to pet vaccination. Wildlife rehabilitation and its promotion of respect and understanding for wildlife represents an impediment to creating this climate of irrational fear. It is, therefore, a significant threat to rabies funding programs, particularly at a time of increased competition from what are serious government spending priorities.

    Abuse of the EBR Process: In July 2002, the MNR abused the EBR process by posting changes to wildlife rehabilitation regulations on the basis of intentionally misrepresented information while fabricating a non-existent “emergency” to deny public input.

    Now, in spite of years of strong public protest during which time the Ontario Liberals, while in Opposition, presented petitions from over 9,000 residents in 260 communities in the province demanding changes to those regulations, the changes put in place in October 2005 by the McGuinty Liberals, in fact, make matters worse. That is likely why there has been no consultation with the majority of wildlife rehabilitators in the province and why there will continue to be a serious lack of help for people seeking assistance on behalf of wildlife in distress in Ontario.

    Summary: While Ontario has legislation that provides for wildlife rehabilitation, the bias against it within the MNR has created such restrictive regulations and negative attitudes that it is disallowed. Frankly, the regulations must either be changed and wildlife rehabilitation housed within a ministry that can accommodate the public values that support it, or the legislation should be rescinded. At least that way, Ontario will stand honestly in one place or the other – either as a very unprogressive province or it can join the majority of North American communities that provide the modern wildlife response demanded by the public.

    Wildlife rehabilitation services cannot survive under the aegis of the Ministry of Natural Resources. It is a question of such fundamental differences in mandate, culture and philosophy that there can be no compatibility. The mandate of the MNR is that of a regulatory agency concerned with the harvesting of wildlife, its funding received from licence revenue from that activity. It holds solely a population level view of wildlife while wildlife rehabilitation places value on individual animals that make up populations. The fact that an increasing number of the public view wildlife in broader conservation terms than does the Ministry and in that a majority of the public support wildlife rehabilitation means that the Ontario government will soon be forced to address this reality by reflecting community values and changing public opinion.

     

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