Court case begins tomorrow

Ontario government taken to task over treatment of animals seized from Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre


Where: Ontario Court of Justice, Telesat Court

When: 1:30 p.m., April 17, 2003


OTTAWA, April 16, 2003 – Lawrence Greenspon, the lawyer representing the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre (OCWC), will appear in an Ottawa court room tomorrow to challenge the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) on its treatment of animals seized from the Wildlife Centre last September.


Information released by the MNR in court affidavits confirms that the 34 raccoons are being cared for in ways that contravene its own guidelines for the humane and responsible rehabilitation of wildlife. For example, Section 16.3.2 of the Draft Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation in Ontario requires caging of 30 square feet per raccoon. The Ministry is keeping these animals in cages two feet by two feet by five feet, on wire mesh floors and with no opportunity to learn climbing skills.


These same guidelines require that raccoons be kept together in family-sized groups of four or five, to learn species-specific behaviour and the necessary socialization skills necessary to ensure their survival in the wild. The Ministry has confirmed that these highly social animals have been kept alone and in separate cages for more than seven months.


“The Ministry requires that licensed wildlife rehabilitators across Ontario abide by these rules, yet the Ministry itself does not,” says Greenspon. “The Ministry has extensive experience in conducting research on wildlife, and in having them euthanized, but they have no expertise in rehabilitation. The people at the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre have 15 years of experience. They should be given an opportunity to properly assess these animals, and give them every chance possible to survive.”


In this latest court action, Greenspon is representing OCWC Board Member Debbie Lawes who has filed a petition to have the seized animals (34 raccoons, 5 skunks and 1 fox) returned to the care of the OCWC. She is asking that the OCWC receive a temporary six-week permit from the MNR so that the Centre can finish the rehabilitation of these animals that it started in the spring of 2002.


“We will need those six weeks to undo the damage done by the Ministry of Natural Resources,” says Lawes. “If these animals are to have any chance at a successful re-introduction into the wild, they will need to be assessed, and re-socialized. If the Ministry releases them in their current state, they will not survive.”


Rehabilitation experts in Canada and the United States are appalled that these animals have been isolated from one another and call upon the government to do the right thing to “ensure they are ethically treated and best prepared for release” says Tony Grant, Manager of the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario. “Concerned citizens and rehabilitators throughout Ontario are following the plight of these animals closely”, adds Grant.


Centre MPP, John Baird, has been a strong supporter of the Wildlife Centre and has been working hard to obtain a solution to the issues involving wildlife rehabilitation and the MNR as well as the return of the animals seized from this area. A number of opposition and government elected officials and supporters have identified that “the MNR bureaucracy is clearly out of step with public opinion and community values on this issue and that needs to change”, says Lawes.


The OCWC has continued to challenge the government’s rationale for seizing these animals in the first place. The unprecedented move was prompted by a decision to expand the high risk zone for raccoon rabies to include Ottawa, despite the fact that the disease had been moving further away from Ottawa for years, and that there has never been a case of raccoon rabies in the city.


All rabies-vector species (raccoons, foxes and skunks) rescued by the OCWC were vaccinated against rabies, and kept in captivity well beyond the incubation period for the disease. (Two to three months are cited as the standard incubation periods by scientists.)


“The Ministry has said it plans to release these animals May 1. But if they simply drop them off in the woods, they won’t have the critical social or physical skills necessary to survive nor will they be able to interact with other raccoons. This will be a death sentence for these animals,” says Lawes. “If the Ministry wants to give these animals any chance of survival, it must release them into the care of our Centre immediately.”


The Wildlife Centre is prepared to work with the MNR to give the animals the best possible chance of a successful reintroduction and looks to the MNR to work with the Centre and the community to ensure a positive outcome for these animals.


“This is the last chance for these animals,” says Greenspon. “If the court does not turn these animals over to the care of the Wildlife Centre, then the province’s elected officials will have much to answer for to a growing number of very angry and frustrated constituents.”


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