Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on 
Fisheries and Oceans

Issue No. 16 - Evidence - May 16, 2017


OTTAWA, Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, to which was referred Bill S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins), met this day at 5:04 p.m. to give consideration to the bill.

Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Good evening. My name is Fabian Manning. I'm a senator for Newfoundland and Labrador and I'm pleased to chair this meeting.

Before I give the floor to our witnesses, I would like the members of the committee to introduce themselves first, beginning on my immediate right.

Senator Gold: Good afternoon. Marc Gold from Quebec.

Senator Sinclair: Senator Murray Sinclair from Manitoba.

Senator Plett: Welcome. I'm Don Plett, also from Manitoba.

Senator Enverga: Tobias Enverga, senator from Ontario.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: Éric Forest from Quebec, the Gulf region.

[English]

Senator McInnis: Tom McInnis, Nova Scotia.

The Chair: Thank you, senators. We may have some other senators joining us shortly.

The committee is continuing the examination of Bill S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins).

We are pleased this evening to welcome John Holer, President and Owner, Marineland, through a video link, along with Wayne Thomson, Chairman, Niagara Falls Tourism. We have with us this evening at the table Andrew Burns, Legal Counsel to Marineland, Hunt Partners LLP, Barristers & Solicitors.

We have about an hour or so. We would like to get to questions as soon as we can. I understand you have some opening statements, but our time is of the essence.

Wayne Thomson, Chairman, Niagara Falls Tourism: First, sincere thanks for the opportunity to do this and thanks for the technology that exists today to permit this to happen.

We appreciate this opportunity to have input into what we think without exception is an extremely important factor for the city of Niagara Falls.

My name is Wayne Thomson, and you might ask what is Wayne Thomson doing there and why is he in this situation in support of Marineland?

I go back to 1969, when I was first elected to city council, and after that I spent 17 years as the longest-serving mayor of the City of Niagara Falls. I'm still on city council and coming up to 20 years serving on city council. So I have been subjected to the economy in this community, where we have lost all of our industry that was located here 75 years ago. It's lost because of power costs and other reasons. Thank God we have Niagara Falls and the Niagara Parks Commission, which has provided us the opportunity to be, without exception, the number one leisure destination in Canada. And we fight extremely hard every day to make that happen.

I'm the chairman of Niagara Falls Tourism, probably one of the reasons I'm here. I'm chairman of the ScotiaBank Convention Centre and chairman of several other committees, but I am so passionate about the opportunity to be here today to talk about how important Marineland is to our community.

I would like to say a couple of words about Mr. John Holer, who is not only the owner and who created Marineland, but during our association over the past 40 some-odd years we have become very good friends and I appreciate what he has accomplished.

John started off 55 years ago, when there was no such thing as a protester about animals in captivity. He started with a large swimming pool above ground about 15 feet tall, with some portholes in the side where people could look in and see seals swimming with some female swimmers who would swim along with them.

He took that small initial start and built it into one of the major attractions and theme parks in Canada, and one of the major attractions for the city of Niagara Falls.

At one point, 54 per cent of the rooms that were rented in this area were because of the visits to Marineland.

Marineland spends $4.5 million a year on advertising our destination, always Niagara Falls first and then Marineland. John Holer is without exception one of the most important people in our community with respect to employment.

In the summer season there are 800 jobs at Marineland and that is just the start because of the marketing and what he does. It creates hundreds and hundreds of jobs throughout our community.

So I am here without exception with a strong feeling in support for what he has accomplished over the past 55 years. He's 82 years old now. I find it amazing that we are talking about animals in captivity that have been there for 55 years. He has without exception one of the finest water parks probably in the world. If you compare the tanks that he has for the different mammals and the different belugas and dolphins, they are the largest of any place in the world. He has had more success with new mammals being born than anybody else certainly in North America.

I'm extremely passionate and very supportive of what Mr. Holer has done, but what this has meant to our community is without exception beyond any words that you could say.

I'm delighted to be here to support him, to support our community, because this is what we have left. We have a community that is totally dependent on tourism and visitation.

We go back to what we used to call the magic hundred days. When people used to come to Niagara Falls, they would go down and have their picture taken in front of the falls and then leave and go elsewhere on their visitation in Canada. We used to call it the magic 100 days because they would come May 24 weekend and throughout the summer, and then after Labour Day everything would close up and all the jobs would be lost and everybody was on Employment Insurance and out of work. It was pretty sad.

Now we have year-round tourism because of a lot of spectacular things that have happened in our community: casinos, Marineland, fine dining, the wine country in our area, the golf courses — everything is spectacular to visit. Marineland was the start of this and it continues to be the major attraction.

Those are my initial comments and I'll ask Mr. Holer if he would like to make some comments.

John Holer, President and Owner, Marineland: My name is John Holer. I started my business way back in 1961, with $2,000 in my pocket and with a big idea. I continue proceeding with my development. Today all those things have grown into one of the largest theme parks in Canada. We have over a thousand-acre park that is more than halfway developed, with the rest of the park under development. I'm hoping that in the next three or four years I will be able to complete the park. I'm going to make it definitely an outstanding facility for anywhere in the world.

You have to understand how tourism works. You may ask yourself, "Why have we seen such an increase in tourism at Niagara Falls?'' In my opinion, everything is timed. When visitors come to Marineland they spend the whole day. Some of them spend two days. They come back the next day. In order for them to spend a day, they have to find accommodation, a hotel room and everything else that comes with it, the restaurant, the shopping, other entertainment, and this is how tourism is built.

When you compare other areas like Orlando, the whole reason that Orlando has become so successful is all the things Orlando has to offer to visitors. So when visitors decide to go there, they spend on average close to a week or sometimes 10 days. This is how an area will develop into tourism and invite visitors to come to see us.

Niagara Falls is a great attraction but it doesn't hold the visitors because the average person who comes to visit Niagara Falls can see Niagara Falls in two hours and then they ask themselves, what else do you have to offer? But when they come to Marineland they spend the entire day and that's why 54 per cent of all the hotel rooms that exist in Niagara Falls are related to Marineland, simply because people decide to stay overnight, they want to see other things and they want to experience the other attractions. This is how tourism is formed.

You could talk as much as you want; you are not going to hold them. You have to create activities for them so that they will want to spend the time, and the time is what makes the economy grow. Definitely, we proved here in Niagara Falls just with my own operation, we employ between 700 and 800 people and that generates many other things because with tourism, one thing helps with the other and the experience that visitors get is what is so important.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Holer.

Andrew Burns, Legal Counsel to Marineland, Hunt Partners LLP, Barristers & Solicitors: Marineland's operations are completely transparent. All of its marine mammals have and will always be subject to and available for inspection and accessible to credible scientific researchers at no cost. Marineland is committed to public accountability and transparency, and the evolution of its business and animal welfare policies.

It has and will continue to evolve. It commits millions of dollars a year directly to the support, care and health of all its marine mammals, all without any public funding.

Thousands of school children and special needs children visit Marineland as part of class trips every year. Marineland attracts close to a million visitors yearly to the Niagara Region.

You have heard testimony that direct and long-term scientific evaluation of the beluga whales at Marineland support that they are healthy and do not display abnormal behaviour. There is no apparent need for this bill in the context of the welfare, care, management and movement of marine mammals.

Frankly, this bill is confusing and the rationale for it even more so. The activists have said that this bill won't shut down the Vancouver Aquarium or Marineland, the bill won't affect their operations and yet they say the bill is necessary because of the conditions of the whales at Marineland or the Vancouver Aquarium. That is because this bill isn't really about Marineland or the Vancouver Aquarium. This bill also isn't about integrating a necessary piece of animal welfare legislation within the existing federal and provincial scheme of animal welfare legislation, treaties and agreements.

This bill is about advancing an agenda: the granting of the rights of a person to whales — what activists call a "non- human person'' — and then to other species. In fact, the very same arguments you have heard from Ms. Marino and others were raised by Ms. Marino in a very recent criminal case in Ontario involving an activist interacting with pigs being delivered to a slaughterhouse. Ms. Marino testified in that case to the same level of social behaviour and intelligence of pigs as she did before this committee in relation to whales, in arguing that both pigs and whales should be considered as non-human persons under the law, which was rejected by the court.

I would like to refer the members of this committee directly to the bill. The proposed Criminal Code offence under Bill S-203 can be divided into two parts. The first part, the words, "owning, having custody or control of a cetacean'' are used. The word "possession'' is not used. However, possession means the state of having custody or control.

Under the second part of the Fisheries Act, the prohibition extends to cetaceans in captivity. The word "capture'' is not used. Capture means to take captive or to gain possession or control of. The activists, in response to questions, have expressly said they do not object to the right to hunt or hunting by the Inuit and the prohibition on captivity will not affect that. They, I suggest, and the bill itself deliberately avoid the use of the words "harvest,'' "possession'' or "capture.'' That reflects either a lack of understanding of the express rights of the Inuit or is deliberately disingenuous.

I refer you to the answer by Mr. Adam Burns from the DFO during his testimony that, under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Inuit have the express right to sell any wildlife lawfully harvested and the Nunavut agreement is protected under the Constitution. The fundamental right is to harvest wildlife. The land claims agreement expressly creates a system of wildlife harvesting rights, priorities and privileges, recognizes expressly the need for an effective role for the Inuit in all aspects of wildlife management and provides for the establishment of a Nunavut Wildlife Management Board with the express and sole authority to establish levels of total allowable harvest.

Wildlife is defined in the land claims agreement as "all flora and fauna.'' That includes beluga whales, narwhals, bowhead whales — in total, 88 species. The fundamental right to harvest wildlife is expressly defined in that agreement.

In the land claims agreement, harvest means the reduction of wildlife into possession, which is custody and control, which is the exact phrase used in this bill and includes hunting, trapping, fishing, killing and capturing.

The express rights to harvest wildlife, to take possession of wildlife, to hunt, kill or capture wildlife, under the land claims agreement cannot be avoided, breached or abrogated, in our submission, by transparently avoiding the use of the words "capture'' or "possession'' in this bill. When the meaning of those words is identical to the language used in the bill, there is quite clearly a serious issue to be considered, whether this bill affects expressly enumerated rights of the Inuit set out in the land claims agreement.

There can be no doubt in our submission as to the fundamental importance of the issues raised by this bill to the Inuit way of life, and these issues do not affect incidental rights. These are fundamental rights of the Inuit.

I refer you to the paper Co-Management of Beluga Whales in Nunavik (Arctic Quebec), Canada which, at page 21, states:

A beluga whale is a culturally, economically, nutritionally and socially important resource to the Inuit.

And at page 18 it is clear and it states:

. . . the following Inuit organizations sit at the same table to negotiate management issues with DFO: the Quebec and Kativik Regional Governments, Makivik Corporation, Land Holding Corporations, Angugaviq, the local Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Associations, and representatives from 14 communities.

This bill intrudes directly into issues of constitutionally protected Inuit rights and the developed co-management of a culturally, economically, nutritionally and socially important resource to the Inuit.

Marineland agrees that this bill raises a very serious issue of whether there is a constitutional, legal or moral duty to consult the Inuit with respect to the impact of this bill and respectfully suggests that careful consideration be given as to whether the duty to consult in this instance goes well beyond consultation in relation to the issue of the sale of narwhal tusks and extends to the impact and the nature and scope of expressly enumerated fundamental rights of the Inuit to harvest wildlife.

Based on its understanding of what has transpired to date, Marineland does not believe that the duty to consult raised by this bill has yet to be fulfilled.

Marineland supports an effective and thorough consultation process with the Inuit prior to the clause-by-clause review of this bill, whether or not the duty to consult is mandated by the courts. While that is clearly an important consideration, in our submission it is not determinative.

This committee respectfully may wish to consider whether, in this specific instance, given the terms of the land claims agreement, the central importance of whales to the Inuit culture, along with the role of the Senate in our Constitution, thorough consultation with the Inuit is appropriate in any event of any decision by the court regarding the duty to consult.

Independent of that duty, the prohibitions proposed by this bill appear, on their face, to be incapable of being reconciled with the express rights of the Inuit people, and that gives rise to the question of whether this bill, if passed into law, would be void in any event because it is unconstitutional.

Finally, and to be clear, Marineland sees no legitimate purpose or immediate or critical need for this legislation that is not already thoroughly addressed by comprehensive law, regulations and treaties already in effect and enforced at the national and provincial level, most recently in the province of Ontario where Marineland operates and is subject to routine, unannounced inspections by a new legislated OSPCA zoo inspection team.

Thousands upon thousands of Canadians, including the Inuit people, farmers, scientists, members of numerous government agencies and departments and thousands who work in our aquariums and zoos are dedicated to maintaining and improving animal welfare.

All of our laws, regulations, policies and procedures are based on a fundamental concern for and focus on animal welfare. Can we all do better? Yes, we can, and we are committed to doing so.

The important point is that our understanding of animal welfare evolves as we all learn more. This bill simply does not assist with that process and worse, impedes conservation and research efforts, distracts from the real issues facing our wildlife by demanding the creation of personal rights for animals and, even worse, this bill, on its face, appears to strike directly at expressly enumerated constitutional rights of the Inuit people.

Marineland cannot, therefore, support this bill. Thank you for your consideration.

The Chair: Thank you to our witnesses. I want to advise our senators that we have a long list of people who want to ask questions. As we have time constraints, I'm going to ask you to pose one question as succinct as possible and the answers to be as succinct as possible, and I won't have to cut somebody off.

Senator Plett: Thank you to all of our witnesses. Mr. Holer, a pleasure to see you again; you're looking well. The last time we talked, you said you wanted to be in this business until you were 90 years old. I'm certainly looking forward to visiting you on your ninetieth birthday at Marineland.

Mr. Burns, Marineland has been the subject of a Toronto Star exposé and multiple investigations. Can you tell us what happened and what the outcome was of those investigations?

My second question is that I understand that the Government of Ontario went through a process of updating its animal welfare laws. Could you tell us what happened and who was involved in updating those laws?

Mr. Burns: When those allegations were made, Marineland was subject immediately to a thorough investigation by numerous agencies — the OSPCA, the Niagara Falls Humane Society, independent experts from the Vancouver Aquarium, the Calgary Zoo, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Labour, and ultimately a team of independent outside experts appointed by the Government of Ontario.

Activists you have heard from, and others, vocally and relentlessly pursued those allegations. All were investigated. None was substantiated.

After the entire process that took over a year, all those allegations, not a single charge has been laid by anyone in relation to any marine mammal at Marineland.

I'd like to repeat that: No agency under the Criminal Code or the OSPCA Act believed it had reasonable or probable grounds that a marine mammal at Marineland was or is being abused.

The legislative review process was triggered by this investigation. It was a two-year process. It included the formation of a technical advisory group composed of many of the activists you have heard from, including Zoocheck and Ms. Naomi Rose. There was an independent review by outside appointed independent experts, and they prepared a report which was submitted to the government. Following that process, there were public hearings and the passing of new legislation, including regulations.

It was within the ambit of the independent review to determine whether or not the captivity of marine mammals should cease in Ontario, and instead the conclusion was that marine mammals could be kept in captivity subject to certain strict conditions.

Those have been legislated and they are enforced by newly created zoo inspection teams of the OSPCA who conduct regular announced and unannounced inspections of zoos and aquariums throughout Ontario.

Senator Hubley: Thank you to all our presenters this evening.

Mr. Holer, I apologize for not being here for your presentation, but you can fill me in on any information that you feel is relevant.

Aside from Kiska, the orca, how many cetaceans — i.e., belugas and dolphins — does Marineland have currently?

Mr. Burns: Fifty-five, I believe.

Senator Hubley: Fifty-five in total?

Mr. Burns: I believe. That's my approximate understanding.

Senator Hubley: If Bill S-203 becomes law, and I would like to make this very clear, Marineland would be allowed to keep and display all these cetaceans for many years to come. I believe that's understood?

Mr. Burns: There is a significant problem with the bill as it stands now, which is that it provides for a facility that has a certain number of marine mammals, cetaceans, in captivity on the day it comes into effect to be allowed to keep it.

But if a beluga whale is pregnant prior to the date of the bill coming into effect and gives birth after the bill comes into effect, the birth of that beluga whale triggers the commission of a criminal offence.

Senator Hubley: That would be a question that I could not verify. I would think that if there was a pregnancy that that would be accountable.

Given that there is time on your side, could Marineland adopt a business model based on its other attractions it has? I believe they have amusement rides, birds and land animal exhibits.

Have you considered reinventing Marineland so that you can still educate, if you will, youngsters about marine life without keeping whales and dolphins in captivity?

Mr. Burns: Marineland continues to evolve. It's committed to evolving. Mr. Holer has a massive expansion under way, but at the heart of Marineland are the marine mammals.

Senator McInnis: Thank you all for coming. Let me specifically talk about the amendments to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the amendments thereto.

What effect did the legislation have on your operation? Did you object to the bill, at law amendments, or at any hearing? During the debate on Bill 80, was there any discussion about shutting down your marine operation?

I'll conclude with this second question. Allegedly there have been numerous independent studies and investigations that have all concluded that the marine mammals at Marineland are healthy and well taken care of. Did Marineland initiate these studies? Did you pay to have the studies done? What was the purpose of having these studies? You've answered this question; allegedly the various departments that do inspections in Ontario agree with the operation as it is now operating. Could you answer those? Did you get them all?

Mr. Burns: If I miss one, please tell me. This was a major public issue, and it engaged a response by all the relevant investigative bodies and agencies in Ontario. So the studies, the investigations and the reviews they completed, which was from top to bottom, every single animal was looked at, all of the medical records for each animal was looked at and all of the facilities at Marineland were looked at. All of that was done independently by those agencies performing their functions in accordance with the law.

Marineland's position throughout was to be entirely transparent and to provide access to each agency and any individual seeking information to the full extent possible.

Marineland voluntarily retained the services of one of North America's largest engineering firms that deal with issues of potable water to completely review the entire facility, which is a computer-controlled, multimillion dollar water treatment facility, and they in fact advised me that in most respects it was better than most municipal drinking water systems we have in the country. That report was completed and is posted online and made available to the public.

Senator McInnis: Did you object at any time?

Mr. Burns: There was some objection. One of the objections was to the prohibition against Kiska, the lone killer whale left in Canada, having a companion. We objected vociferously to that on the basis that it seemed unreasonable to Marineland that Kiska should be denied a companion in her old age who could then be transferred out again once she passed away, but that was not allowed.

Senator McInnis: So you work closely?

Mr. Burns: We worked hand in hand. We had numerous meetings with the government, and we worked very closely with all the agencies involved. I was personally involved with it from beginning to end, and it was an extremely extensive public consultation process that went on for two years. It was very thorough and comprehensive, in my view.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: You say in your brief that Marineland is subject to the most rigorous standards in the world and that you meet them. You have my full confidence in that regard. We have heard before the committee is that it is CAZA that conducts inspections and accredits establishments such as Marineland. Is Marineland a member and has it been accredited by CAZA?

[English]

Mr. Burns: The provincial standards that are in place are enforced by the Government of Ontario through the OSPCA Act. Independent of that are Canada's accredited zoos and aquariums. The inspections by them, in our submission, are independent. They are done by highly credible people. The individuals who actually reviewed the situation at Marineland included the President of the Calgary Zoo and the head vet at the Vancouver Aquarium, among others. Those individuals are serious academic individuals in their own right and, in my view, are not people who are going to simply damage their own reputations in the interests of another institution. That is not the purpose of CAZA.

Marineland has been a member of CAZA. Marineland voluntarily withdrew from CAZA this summer during the 100-acre expansion of Marineland simply because, due to a timing issue, re-accreditation occurs this summer in June, and Marineland is in the process of undergoing one of the largest expansions it has ever had. That expansion requires accreditation itself, and therefore, that will occur in the next year or two. But Marineland remains completely committed to the principles of CAZA.

As the regulations are in force in Ontario — and they are the toughest standards and regulations now in force in the world — Marineland meets or exceeds all standards, in any event, whether or not being temporarily out of CAZA to permit this expansion.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: To be clear, what you are saying is that, owing to the planned expansion, Marineland is not currently accredited by CAZA.

[English]

Mr. Burns: Yes. Marineland went through a very extensive process of discussion and review.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: With regard to accreditation?

[English]

Mr. Burns: Yes.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: I have one last quick question for you. When the other witnesses appeared, I asked them whether they would accept a compromise in the bill that would limit the ban on capturing wild cetaceans for commercial purposes. Some witnesses, whom you would describe as activists, considered that an interesting compromise. Would an amendment to the ban on capturing wild cetaceans be acceptable to you?

[English]

Mr. Burns: In our submission, that issue strikes directly at the express fundamental rights of the Inuit set out in the land claims agreement, which states that they have an express right to sell any wildlife lawfully harvested, according to the DFO.

So that amendment, in our submission, would also be a matter that would require consultation with the Inuit.

Senator Gold: Thank you. Welcome. This is a question for Mr. Holer.

Does Marineland have plans to import any additional cetaceans, whales or dolphins? And, if so, over what period of time, what species and in what numbers?

Mr. Holer: At the moment we don't have any plans to expand or engage any new marine mammals into our facilities because this year we will have seven successful births from beluga whales and we feel they will be able to reproduce, as some of them will eventually pass away.

As far as concerning the dolphins, we have five dolphins and we have not had any young ones. We are hoping that someday we would be able to get some more dolphins.

Senator Gold: If I may just follow up, and you'll forgive my ignorance about the breeding habits or practices around cetaceans, but do you breed them proactively or do these pregnancies just happen because they happen to be swimming in the pools together?

Mr. Burns: I think I can answer that. The answer is that it happens in a natural way. There is no artificial insemination at Marineland. There is no interference with the natural behaviour of the beluga whales, and to the extent that they do breed, it is a voluntary activity of the beluga whales.

What is critical to note, as Mr. Holer has, is that there was a 100 per cent success rate in births of beluga whales last year. That is unprecedented. In the wild, the percentage that is born and survives is very low. This level of success of breeding is based on decades of experience and very hard lessons learned by Mr. Holer and Marineland.

Senator Gold: Do I take it from your answer that they are encouraged to breed as opposed to breed accidentally?

Mr. Burns: They're not encouraged one way or the other. There is no interference or effort in any way to cause or encourage a beluga whale to breed.

Senator Sinclair: Mr. Holer, I am curious about the nature of Marineland's functioning. It appears to me, from what you've said, that much of your activity is around the entertainment aspect of the industry relating to cetaceans. You display them, you put on performances, you charge people fees to come and watch the performances and spend the day.

Can you tell me how much money you make from that element of your industry or your functioning on an annual basis?

Mr. Holer: All the money that Marineland ever took in is put back into the business to expand the business. I never took any money out except money that I live on.

Senator Sinclair: How much money would you have taken in last year then?

Mr. Holer: We took in a substantial amount of money. We charged $45 admission for a ticket, and that money is spent to keep up the cost of the animals and also to keep up the costs of the entire park.

Marineland does not take any additional money from government or any other sources. That is actually unheard of in any other facilities. This is simple because to me my whole view is I want to generate money and put money back into the business. This is how I started it. I started with only $2,000, and I turned this into a multimillion-dollar operation. This is how these things are done.

Senator Sinclair: Can you tell me how much money your operation has made with regard to breeding cetaceans for other marine entities in North America or around the world?

Mr. Burns: I can answer that. Marineland does not breed beluga whales or other cetaceans on demand for any institution. That does not happen. Institutions around the world do not order marine mammals from Marineland. That has not happened.

Senator Sinclair: Thank you, counsel.

Mr. Holer, we've heard evidence here from other representatives that you have a sufficient stock of cetaceans to be able to continue functioning for quite a number of years to come, even with this legislation. Do you agree with that statement or not?

Mr. Holer: As with all living things, animals do reproduce, and that would probably continue. We are not interested in selling the animals. We did exchange some animals with SeaWorld because we feel that it's a very healthy situation when you can exchange animals with other facilities in order to keep the right breeding stock. I hope that we will be able to continue doing this.

Mr. Burns: Senator, I don't mean to interrupt. I want to make sure I clarify the answer for you so that there is no confusion for you. I wanted to be clear that Marineland does not breed on demand for institutions. However, Marineland's success is well known around the world, and institutions do approach Marineland seeking to either loan or buy marine mammals from Marineland. That does happen.

Senator Enverga: Thank you for the presentation. Many critics have mentioned that whale watching in the wild is the best way to see them. However, I have a special needs daughter who will not be able to see them in the wild because of the turbulence and all kinds of problems, but that's not really my question.

I understand that Marineland has initiated programs and hosted special events for children with autism and other special needs. Could you comment on Marineland's involvement with these causes?

As well, does Marineland work with educators? What does Marineland offer? Can you let me know more on this, please?

Mr. Burns: Thousands of schoolchildren visit Marineland as part of class trips every year. These continue to take place today. That includes thousands of families who lack the financial means to pay for a private visit even to visit Marineland.

They're taught about marine and land animals and how they are cared for, what they eat and how they survive, and they are also provided with hands-on interactions with the animals.

In addition, at least 3,500 special needs children every year visit Marineland through special programs, including events like autism day where parents with children with special needs — in this case autism — can attend and see the animals.

Marineland has been engaged in those programs for decades and continues to do so. Marineland also works with Children's Wish Foundation groups, other groups including wounded soldiers. I can tell you that I became aware of a wounded soldier whose mother phoned crying because the photo of him next to a dolphin at Marineland was the first time she had seen her son smile since he was injured fighting.

So Marineland works with those groups and will continue to do so and works with children with special needs going from minor disabilities to major special needs issues.

Senator Enverga: Does Marineland work with educators and what does Marineland offer? Can any university go to your offices?

Mr. Burns: Yes. For example, there is an animal care committee. Any researcher, any program, any school can make a request to Marineland. Marineland does not charge, unlike many other institutions, for anyone to come and attend. For example, classes from Canisius College come regularly and attend at the park to do research and to learn about the animals.

Senator Plett: With your indulgence, chair, my question will actually be one and half and it will be done immediately. But the reason I want to do this, chair, is I want to ask Mr. Burns what this bill would do, if it passed, to Marineland, with a follow-up to Mr. Thomson, depending on Mr. Burns's answer. We have heard this legislation could literally destroy Marineland, so what would that do to the Niagara Falls economy. It is literally two questions, but the judge says that's okay.

Mr. Burns, what would the bill do to Marineland? And if it would do what we've heard, Mr. Thomson, what would it do to the Niagara Falls economy?

Mr. Burns: In our submission, it would fundamentally and critically damage Marineland. The effect of the bill, as currently drafted, would require Marineland to tear apart working, good, healthy, active social groups of marine mammals that are living and breathing and are healthy at Marineland, and we would have to tear them apart because it bans breeding, which would cause a huge amount of stress —unnecessary stress — and damage what is a working and healthy group of active animals. In our view, it would essentially destroy Marineland's future.

Senator Plett: Mr. Thomson, what would that do to the economy of Niagara Falls if Marineland was no longer there, or even there at half the capacity?

Mr. Thomson: First of all, that's really the reason that I'm here, and I've been involved for so long, I feel that some of the decisions and work that I have done have helped Marineland to be where it is today, and it is because of my passion for creating jobs and for keeping people working and having opportunities.

If Marineland were damaged in any way and the visitation was cut substantially, it would immediately affect not only the jobs at Marineland but also the jobs in the restaurants and the hotels and have a detrimental effect on our entire economy. It is at this particular point we're experiencing the best two or three years that the city of Niagara Falls has had with respect to visitation, mainly because of the attractions that we have here, Marineland leading the way, but also the exchange on the dollar, which is bringing the Americans back after the disastrous situation of the passport issue, which was made mandatory for Americans to come here. Only 27 per cent of Americans had passports at that particular time, and we had many difficult years after that. It's slowly coming back to where the Americans are visiting and keeping our economy afloat, and certainly the jobs are doing exceptionally well.

Without Marineland, we would have some serious problems.

Senator Hubley: You have provided a chart with your statement that compares the tank volume of various aquariums around the world, but the chart does not indicate how many cetaceans are housed in any of those other aquariums or even if there are cetaceans and what kind.

Could you get that information for us?

Mr. Burns: Some of that information is privately held, because I've tried to look for it, but I will do our best to get that information to you to the extent that we can obtain it. We will provide it to you.

Senator Hubley: Why would it be private?

Mr. Burns: Many institutions don't want to share information about their stock, what pools they are in, et cetera, because when it becomes public, all these institutions have the same issues with groups that are quite firm and vociferous in their beliefs. They don't often want to share a lot of information.

Senator Hubley: Fine, would you do that?

Mr. Burns: We will do our very best to provide that.

Senator Sinclair: Just one more question, and I'll ask Mr. Burns this question, because he probably knows the answer better than Mr. Holer would.

Marineland is facing, I believe, 11 or 12 cruelty charges under the SPCA Act of Ontario relating to land animals, not to cetaceans.

Mr. Burns: That's correct.

Senator Sinclair: Will you tell me what is happening with regard to those?

Mr. Burns: With respect to those charges, they are currently before the court. Some disclosure has been be made. We are currently in discussion with the Crown regarding the provision of additional disclosure, relevant disclosure and the status of the charges. We expect that a judicial pretrial will be set, scheduled on June 2. Following that judicial pretrial, depending on what occurs, the matter would be set for trial.

Senator Sinclair: Thank you.

Senator Enverga: I was talking about the kids. When kids go to Marineland — and I remember my kid — they have an experience, they get inspired and they really appreciate nature. That's what my kid told me anyway. Can you give me some feedback from educators or maybe special groups after they have visited?

Mr. Burns: I can give a personal example. My son has special needs. My other two children have gone with him, and then following that visit we went on a family trip to New Brunswick and because of their interests in the whales at Marineland, they expressed an interest to go whale-watching, which they then did. They experienced whales both at Marineland and on the coast whale-watching, and I myself have visited the Arctic. Mr. Holer has been to the Arctic dozens of times, and now my children are expressing interest in going on my next trip to Arctic. So I think that gives an example.

Senator Enverga: Thank you, chair.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Enverga.

I want to thank our witnesses here this evening for their cooperation and my fellow senators for their cooperation. We will finish up and see you on Thursday morning. We are adjourned.

(The committee adjourned.)