Ontario considers tougher laws to protect animals in zoos and aquariums

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TORONTO - The Ontario government vowed Wednesday to strengthen its animal welfare laws following allegations of mistreatment of animals at one of the provinces amusement parks.

Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur said the province plans to introduce legislation by the spring that will beef up regulations to ensure the safety and health of animals kept in zoos and aquariums, including Marineland.

That entails strengthening the existing Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act as well as introducing new rules that apply to marine animals.

But first, the province will work with animal experts and other stakeholders to come up with standards for caring for captive animals, Meilleur said in a news conference.

"I don't want to rush the process... We don't have anything specific, so that's why we are doing this review," she said.

Regulators will also look at licensing the province's more than 60 zoos and aquariums, she said.

The move comes under mounting pressure from animal welfare activists — including former Marineland staff — who allege animals at the amusement park aren't being looked after properly.

But some of those at the heart of the movement said the government's proposal simply delays making any real changes.

"I would say there's more than enough evidence out there to surmise and recognize the voids in the laws and the problems that currently exist," said Philip Demers, a former Marineland animal trainer behind some of the allegations.

"The time for action is now. The more we delay — the more the government delays — the less likely I believe anything is going to happen."

Dozens of protesters rushed the gates of the park this weekend, calling for an end to animal captivity.

And critics of the park have delivered a petition with 77,000 signatures to the legislature in an effort to spur the government to take immediate action.

Both the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals launched investigations after the former employees complained that poor water quality and other issues was risking the health of the animals.

CAZA, an industry group with its own health and safety standards, said it found no major issues at the park, aside from an issue with the maintenance of the water management system.

Marineland agreed to have an independent assessment of their systems and unannounced inspections by CAZA in the future.

The park has said its primary concern is to provide a safe and healthy environment for their animals.

The OSPCA is continuing its investigation, but recently said it had identified "some areas of concern.''

Organizations: Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums

Geographic location: Ontario, TORONTO

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