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Should City Council allow traveling circus animal acts?

City Council will soon discuss the question of whether or not to permit traveling animal shows, such as circuses, to perform in Sault Ste. Marie.

City Council will soon discuss the question of whether or not to permit traveling animal shows, such as circuses, to perform in Sault Ste. Marie.

Possible passing of a by-law prohibiting local performances by traveling shows which use wild, exotic animals such as elephants, lions, tigers and bears, will be discussed at Council’s next meeting in November.

A report on the issue was accepted by Council as an information item at its last meeting on Monday.

The report includes a great deal of online information highlighting cruelty to circus animals.

There was also a listing of many incidents in which public safety was an issue, such as a 1999 Timmins incident when a circus employee was killed after being struck by an elephant, another 1999 incident in which two trainers suffered minor injuries when they were bitten by a lion, and a 2007 Newmarket incident in which three elephants escaped from a circus and wandered into a residential area before being successfully rounded up.

In May of this year, Council passed a resolution forwarded by Ward Two Councillor Terry Sheehan requesting the City Solicitor draw up a report on how the City could pass a by-law that would keep traveling animal acts such as circuses from performing in Sault Ste. Marie.

Sheehan pointed out in the May resolution that many shows, such as Cirque du Soleil's Quidam, which performed at the Sault’s Essar Centre this past spring, provide a high level of quality entertainment without using wild animals, and that 29 municipalities across Canada have moved to prohibit circuses that use animal acts.

Monday’s item also contains information related to Bill 50 (the Provincial Animal Welfare Act).

Nevertheless, the information item accepted by Council at this Monday’s meeting includes a recommendation from City Solicitor Nuala Kenny to take no action on the matter.

Kenny explained to this recommendation comes for two reasons.

"The City of Windsor passed a by-law that would prohibit circuses coming to Windsor. An Ontario Superior Court of Justice struck that by-law down in 2004. The City of Windsor did not appeal, so it is law in Ontario. We followed that lead. So Windsor’s not appealing was very significant.”

“What the Court said at the time was ‘cruelty to animals ’ was covered by both the provincial and federal governments, and not by municipalities,” Kenny said.

However, Kenny says Sheehan is correct in that the Ontario cruelty to animals legislation has been amended by Bill 50 subsequent to the Windsor by-law, and specifically authorizes municipalities to pass by-laws to protect animals.

“That definitely tweaks what happened with Windsor, but the Court also stated that under freedom of expression in the Charter, if you have an act that uses animals as a form of entertainment or theatrical use, that it is a type of ‘expression’ permitted under the Charter,” Kenny continued.

The second reason Kenny recommended that no action be taken by Sault Ste. Marie on the matter is “we have been advised by our Community Services Division that we just don’t get those acts, they don’t come here. They used to, but not anymore.”

Regardless, Sheehan put forward a Notice of Motion on Monday, stating he still wants the matter debated at Council’s first meeting in November, feeling that the changes in Bill 50 changes the picture, and wants everyone on the same page when it comes to animal shows in Sault Ste. Marie.

Correspondence from the Kiwanis Club, addressed to Council, states the local chapter of the Club has been tentatively selected as a host for the famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride for its 2013 tour, with final approval to come hopefully in January.

Club President Brad Frechette points out that the local club hosted the 2009 RCMP Ride and the event raised over $20,000 for children’s programs in Sault Ste. Marie.

Frechette urges Council to consider any wild animal by-law thoughtfully so that the Kiwanis Club would be able to host the RCMP Musical Ride in 2013 or any other future year, stating that “the RCMP is a model organization for the treatment and care of their animals.”

Sheehan has responded to the Kiwanis Club by writing he would support an exception to any by-law that would allow the RCMP musical ride to perform in Sault Ste. Marie.

However, Kenny told us: “Any such by-law may be open to challenge because of the Charter’s freedom of expression provisions, and also, if you’re saying we’re not going to allow these shows and you list lions and tigers and bears and you don’t list ponies and dogs, that to me seems like an arbitrary cut. So, I think it’s a little dicey, in my view, to arbitrarily split which animals come under the care of the municipality and which should not.”