OCWC demands proof that animals seized by Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources are alive, and releasable

 

OTTAWA, April 24, 2003 – The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre (OCWC) is demanding proof that the raccoons, skunks and fox seized from its care last year by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) are alive, and have not been damaged to the point where they are no longer releasable.

 

The OCWC’s challenge to MNR – and to Ottawa area MPPs to get directly involved in this issue – follows a moral victory yesterday in which Ontario Court Justice Jolicoeur questioned why the government is refusing to allowing a brief four-to-six-week period of rehabilitation before releasing these animals back into the wild. The animals have been held for seven months in a Codrington research laboratory, an MNR facility near Peterborough Ont.

 

“What is the Ministry trying to hide,” asked OCWC board member Debbie Lawes, who filed the application with the Ontario court to have the seized animals returned to the OCWC for assessment and rehabilitation. “Ministry officials have said under oath that they plan to release these animals in early May, yet they are not allowing the OCWC to assess the state of these animals, and are opposing their rehabilitation. We have no proof that these animals are fit to be released into the wild, if indeed they are still alive at all.”

 

The OCWC’s concerns were heightened following two days of testimony during which MNR officials revealed that the Centre’s 34 raccoons are being kept in conditions that violate international standards for wildlife rehabilitation – the same standards used by the MNR as Draft Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation in Ontario. MNR witnesses also acknowledged that the scientifically proven incubation period for raccoon rabies is 107 days. The MNR has kept these animals quarantined in small cages for more than seven months.

 

In the end, Justice Jolicoeur ruled against Lawes’ application, based on a legal technicality, but only after a lengthy public deliberation in which he voiced his support for having the raccoons returned. He says he was surprised that the animals had been kept in cages two feet wide, by five feet long and two feet high – two thirds smaller than required under international standards for wildlife rehabilitation – and had been kept for such a lengthy period of time.

 

Justice Jolicoeur also said that returning the animals to the OCWC for a brief period of rehabilitation “would be in the best interest of the animals”, and questioned why the MNR was so opposed to having these animals receive rehabilitation before their release.

 

Under cross examination by OCWC lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, MNR witnesses admitted that they had never seen the animals in question, which substantially weakened their contention that the animals could be released without rehabilitation.

 

A key witness for the OCWC testified that these animals will not survive in the wild without proper rehabilitation. “The animals have been separated and held in social isolation from one another and in caging that has impaired their physical development by severely restricting their activity and preventing their natural need to climb,” longtime OCWC volunteer Richard Morlan stated in his affidavit. “It would be inhumane and irresponsible to release these animals without a number of weeks devoted to their rehabilitation and re-socialization in a proper wildlife rehabilitation facility, under the supervision of rehabilitators well experienced in assessment and re-integration.”

 

Morlan’s concerns are shared by wildlife rehabilitation experts in Canada and the United States who say they are appalled that the Ontario government has permitted this unethical treatment of wildlife.

 

OCWC President Donna DuBreuil says negotiations are ongoing with Nepean-Carleton MPP John Baird to mediate a resolution to the issue. “Mr. Baird has been quite supportive of our case, but time is running out and action must be taken now to give these animals any chance for survival,” says DuBreuil. “The behaviour of the MNR raises some serious questions that need to be addressed. It has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money fighting the OCWC, a group of respected and valued community volunteers these past seven months. The public has a right to know why, and why the MNR is so vehemently opposed to the rehabilitation of the animals that it has compromised.”