In Canada, passage of Senate Bill S-203 would bring an end to keeping whales and dolphins captive in concrete tanks. Several members of the Whale Sanctuary Project team testified at hearings, and the bill has broad public and Senate support, but has been consistently stalled by a small group of senators. Here’s the latest update.
Due to a Conservative Party filibuster, Canada’s Bill S-203 – the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act – was deprived of a final vote as the Senate approached its summer adjournment. But the bill may gain a whole new life when Parliament reconvenes in the fall.
S-203’s likely last gasp in its present form was not a pretty sight. Senator Woo, Facilitator of the Independent Senators Group in Canada, said he was “appalled” by the “spectacle” of the endless stalling tactics.
“What are we doing in the Senate, twiddling our thumbs, for hours waiting for a vote to happen?” he asked after describing the amendments, sub-amendments and several hour-long delays that took the proceedings into the night. The point of the delays, he said, was “to essentially not allow a bill that’s been on the order paper for three years to have a vote.”
When Conservative Whip Senator Don Plett, the bill’s leading opponent, rose to speak, he called the whole debate “a battle between activist and scientist.” Senator Plett carefully omitted that the so-called “activists” were an A-list of world-class marine scientists, and that the people he was calling “scientists” had mainly worked for the captivity industry.
As the Senate prepared to adjourn for the summer, the bill found itself in yet another holding pattern.
Then came a series of Conservative procedural motions that left senators hanging around until 9.30 p.m., unable to force a final vote for technical reasons. “There was no point in continuing with the charge,” Senator Woo said. “They would have continued to move sub-amendments … We’d have done nothing from 10 till midnight.”
And so, 30 months after S-203’s introduction, and as the Senate prepared to adjourn for the summer, the bill found itself in yet another holding pattern. And this time, S-203 may be dead in the water since the Government may call for “prorogation” before reconvening in the fall. This event terminates a parliamentary session and kills bills such as S-203 from the previous session.
While this outcome is very frustrating for senators who have weathered years of stalling tactics, it’s not the end of the road. Even if S-203 cannot be resurrected in the fall, the bill has a path to reincarnation, so to speak. Senators could amend its provisions into Bill C-68, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence, a government bill partially inspired by S-203. C-68 has just passed the House of Commons, and the Senate will review the legislation in the fall. Conservative senators cannot delay government bills to the same astonishing extent as private Members’ bills, such as S-203.
As it stands, C-68 would ban live cetacean captures in Canadian waters and allow the federal government to regulate the import of cetaceans and their reproductive materials. S-203 would go considerably further, by restricting imports and exports in law to cetaceans’ best interests (such as for transport to a sanctuary) or provincially licensed research. Most importantly, S-203 bans cetacean breeding by making it an animal cruelty offence. Performances for entertainment would also require a license. As Senator Murray Sinclair, sponsor of S-203, told the Senate: “I expect that our statement in the Senate about the provisions of Bill S-203 will have an influence on the process of Bill C-68 as it passes through committee stage and its amendment process.”
If a majority of senators voted to amend Bill C-68 to include some or all of S-203’s stronger proposals, a majority of elected Members of Parliament would then need to agree with the appointed Senate’s changes for them to become law.
A positive sign this could happen is that senators voted overwhelmingly to defeat Sen. Plett’s sub-amendment, brought as a stall tactic, to exempt Marineland from S-203’s application. That vote – 51 to 32, with four abstentions – signaled strong support for S-203 in the Senate. As well, Members of Parliament from Canada’s four major political parties, including the Conservative Party, held a rare joint press conference calling for a vote on S-203, indicating potentially broad policy support in the House of Commons.
So, while no whales are breaching for joy yet, there’s some confidence that Canada’s Parliament will soon enact most, maybe even all, of the groundbreaking laws proposed by Senators Wilfred Moore, Murray Sinclair and Daniel Christmas.