June 23, 2003

 

An Open Letter to the Premier of Ontario

 

Dear Premier Eves

 

On April 28, 2003, you made a public commitment on CFRA radio to “expeditiously” review the planned release of wildlife seized by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) in a controversial raid on the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre in September 2002.

 

We have since learned that, in spite of your commitment, these animals were released and, what is particularly alarming, that they were released into an area where there are active cases of raccoon rabies. You will understand the real concern of this community in light of the following:

 

  • Freedom of Information documentation received by the OCWC shows that the MNR had made the decision to expand the raccoon rabies high-risk zone to include Ottawa on February 4, 2002. Yet this decision was withheld from Ottawa City Councillors and the community until July 23, 2002, the day after the expansion was formally announced and the day of the raid, at a time of the year when the MNR knew the Centre would be filled with young animals. There is every indication that the seizure of these animals was part of the expansion plan, further confirmed by the fact that the MNR carried out visits in late June and early July in advance of the seizure to do an “inventory of animals” – something it had never done before.

 

  • There was no justification for taking the animals as 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 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.

 

  • These 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  wildlife rehabilitation standards – standards the MNR itself imposes on wildlife rehabilitators in Ontario.

 

  • The animals were kept in these unacceptable conditions for almost eight 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 denied, leading us to believe that the Ministry had something to hide.

 

  • 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 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.

 

  • In spite of your commitment to review the matter, the animals were “released” a few days later to meet a May 1st deadline to which the MNR seemed committed. Many saw it as a “rush to get rid of the evidence”.

 

  • An investigative report by a local newspaper learned from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that these animals were released at “ground zero” in Edwardsburg-Cardinal Township where there are current cases of raccoon rabies and where animals are being trapped and killed as part of the MNR controversial “depopulation” activities.

 

  • What is even more appalling, we have just learned, is that there have been more confirmed cases of raccoon rabies in exactly the area where the animals from the OCWC were released.

 

We are writing to ask you, Mr. Premier, why would animals taken from Ottawa where there has never been a case of raccoon rabies be released into an area 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 in another county a hundred or more kilometers away from where they came and in violation of the Ministry’s own one-kilometer release restriction.

 

We believe the animals were taken and are being used for research purposes. We base our belief on documents received through a Freedom of Information request - a copy of a proposal in which the MNR is the key partner in a project funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. One activity identified within the research schedule indicates “this will involve using control samples that have been seeded with known amount of viral RNA to assess limits of detection of this approach compared with the standard antibody approach”. The start date for the control study was May 1, 2003 which is strongly indicative of the reason for the Ministry’s inflexible and determined efforts to have the animals “released” by that date.

 

Mr. Premier, we are asking you to fulfill your promise made on CFRA and release the results of that review? The staff and volunteers with the OCWC and so many members of the public who are following this issue deserve to know what really happened to the raccoons seized by your Minister, Jerry Ouellette.

 

We are also concerned with the fate of a young fox taken by the Ministry. We have requested, through our local MPPs, that the fox be returned for rehabilitation and release. The MNR plan to place this fox in a zoo is unconscionable and has drawn considerable protest from the community. The fox has been in solitary confinement now for eleven months – a cruel and senseless punishment for any wild animal. We understand that both the Hon. Norm Sterling and John Baird have requested that the fox be returned and we ask that you expedite that request.

 

For the past eight months, the MNR has consistently stated that these animals were and would not be used for research. However, given all of the evidence to the contrary, the onus of proof as to the whereabouts and the use of these animals must now be on the MNR. The Ministry and your government will continue to be the target of strong public criticism until such evidence is produced through an Inquiry into this affair.

 

We look forward to your response.

 

Kim Elmslie, Emergency Relief Representative                       Liz White, Director

International Fund for Animal Welfare                                    Animal Alliance of Canada

(613) 241-8996                                                                       (416) 462-9541

 

Donna DuBreuil, President

Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre

(613) 282-3755