OTTAWA JUDGE DISMISSES CHARGES AGAINST WILDLIFE CENTRE; LAWRENCE GREENSPON CALLS CHARGES INHUMANE
OTTAWA, February 27, 2003 – The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre (OCWC) is declaring victory today following a ruling by Ontario Court Justice Jolicoeur to dismiss most of the charges laid against the Centre’s president and one of its foster volunteers by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).
Of the thirteen charges brought against Centre President Donna DuBreuil, the judge dismissed ten of them, with only minor fines levied for the remaining three charges.
Lawrence Greenspon, well-known Ottawa human rights lawyer, took on the Wildlife Centre’s case, saying “the Ministry, through these charges, inexplicably decided to try and close down a valuable volunteer service in our community”.
DuBreuil plead guilty to one of the charges, “failure to surrender wildlife”. She says she makes no apology for having tried to protect the animals that were finally seized by MNR in a major raid by MNR conservation officers and Ottawa police on September 12, 2002.
“One of the reporters there that day described this as the largest show of force he had witnessed outside a major gang-related drug bust,” recalled DuBreuil. “Many questions as for the rationale for this needless waste of taxpayers’ dollars still remain. The Ministry’s actions and its policies demand a public inquiry.”
She added: “Given the community’s grave concern about the care and fate these poor animals have endured at an MNR research facility these past six months, I am only sorry we had not been able to prevent them from being taken in the first place.”
The Centre and its volunteers have been the target of a Ministry campaign that has left the Ottawa community baffled, angry and, now, with the closing of the Centre, without any help for area wildlife. The Centre announced its closure in December due to the high-handed actions of the MNR in seizing baby animals and intimidating community volunteers and because MNR’s regressive regulations make it impossible to provide responsible or humane wildlife rehabilitation in Ontario.
Legal charges were filed by the MNR last summer when Centre volunteers refused to surrender wildlife. The Centre contested that the expansion of the raccoon rabies high-risk zone to include Ottawa was unjustified and that the seizure of the orphaned wildlife was unsupportable. The animals had come from Ottawa where there has never been a case of raccoon rabies, they were fully vaccinated and had been in captive care for months beyond any disease incubation period.
“These animals were simply used as political pawns in a campaign that had more to do with protecting MNR jobs and budgets, than public health”, said DuBreuil.
Additional charges were laid by the MNR in December that Board member, Debbie Lawes, said “were meant to further harass and intimidate volunteers”. One such charge involved a skunk that the Centre had rescued from the window well of a frantic Nepean homeowner who could find no one else to help. The skunk had an object imbedded in its neck that required removal along with a badly infected wound that needed treatment and antibiotics. The MNR charged the Centre with rescuing a “banned” animal.
“The Centre responded in what was the only safe and humane response,” said Lawes. “What were the staff supposed to do – leave the skunk to die in the window well or force an inexperienced homeowner to try and get it out?” Lawes added that the charge demonstrates “how absurd the MNR’s regulations are and what distress they have caused for homeowners, volunteers and animal welfare organizations.”
Much time and money has been spent by the MNR in preparing its legal action against caring individuals who rescue and rehabilitate baby animals – this at a time when the provincial government has downloaded many of its responsibilities to local government, saying it doesn’t have the resources to do the job.
“Now that the legal charges have been dealt with, the OCWC will press ahead with the demand to get the seized animals returned as soon as possible” said Greenspon. He added that “it is disgraceful that these highly social animals have been separated and are being kept alone, in violation of basic international wildlife rehabilitation standards, and that they have been held for almost three times longer than any recognized disease incubation period”.
Following the court case, Greenspon filed an application for a new hearing to having the seized animals returned to the OCWC for rehabilitation and release back into the environment.
Press Release by:
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre