MPs have voted in favour of Bill S-203, also known as the ‘Free Willy’ bill. Photo supplied

‘Free Willy’ bill demands end to whale captivity

MPs vote in favour of Bill S-203

A bill to ban whale and dolphin captivity in Canada appears to be on its way to receiving Royal Assent in Ottawa. MPs voted in favour of Bill S-203, affectionately known as the ‘Free Willy’ bill, Tuesday in the House of Commons.

“In captivity, cetaceans suffer confinement, isolation, health problems and reduced lifespans,” Courtenay-Alberni NDP MP Gord Johns said. “All the facts are there. Given the evidence, it doesn’t make sense. Captive facilities can’t provide for their social and biological needs.”

A single amendment to the bill would have required a re-vote in the Senate, where S-203 languished for years.

The bill was tabled in 2015.

“The Conservatives tried to kill it,” Johns said. “It finally made its way to the House just recently after three-and-a-half years. Any amendment would have killed the bill, essentially.”

He credits the thousands of Canadians, many in his riding, who lobbied their offices in the name of animal welfare.

“We spent a lot of time working the phones,” Johns said. “It was high drama at Fisheries and Oceans committee.”

He also credits the offices of Green Party leader Elizabeth May, and NDP MP/Fisheries Critic Fin Donnelly for helping push the bill through.

“It’s an historic piece of animal rights legislation that people have been trying to advance for many years. It was incredible to see not just across the country, but internationally, the amount of people that were involved, that wanted to see this legislation in place…We’re elated.”

The bill will soon come back to the House for a vote.

Besides banning captivity, Bill S-203 includes a grandfather clause for animals already in facilities in Canada. It would permit research, the rescue of animals in distress, and ban breeding and trade of reproductive materials.

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