TORONTO – Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Ottawa may need to play a role in regulating exotic pet stores in the wake of the deaths of two boys asphyxiated by a python while they slept.
“We are going to … try and ascertain exactly what has occurred and if there is or is not any federal role [in] what needs to be done,” Harper told reporters in Miramichi, N.B., Friday.
As he spoke, zoo staff in Campbellton seized 23 reptiles and euthanized four alligators that belonged to zoo-turned-pet store Reptile Ocean.
The African rock python that killed Connor and Noah Barthe, euthanized Monday, is prohibited in New Brunswick. But it was given to store owner Jean-Claude Savoie by the federal government.
As Campbellton mourns the two boys, many are trying to figure out how Savoie amassed more than two dozen prohibited animals in his personal reptile exhibit.
Environment Canada gave him the African rock python in August, 2002. after the 45-kilogram snake was abandoned at a local SPCA. The Moncton SPCA has a record of a python dropped off Aug. 8, 2002 and transferred to Campbellton Aug. 14 but has no further details on where it went.
The department stresses this was an unusual case: “At no time did Environment Canada assume custody of the python,” said spokesperson Mark Johnson. “Environment Canada assisted Moncton SPCA in placing the snake … as Environment Canada officers are trained in handling wild animals.”
But that wasn’t the first time Environment Canada had entrusted reptiles to Savoie’s care: Two months earlier they gave him a Cuban crocodile seized as “a result of an investigation that took place in Alberta and New Brunswick,” Johnson said.
“The crocodile was placed with Reptile Ocean in June 2002 as it was operating as a zoo in the province of New Brunswick. Environment Canada places seized live animals in facilities for care under long term loan agreements.”
That agreement meant Environment Canada “maintains custody of the crocodile,” Johnson said in a subsequent email.
“The province of New Brunswick is responsible for ensuring that facilities operating as pet stores or zoos in New Brunswick have the proper provincial permits to do so.”
That crocodile was one of 23 animals confiscated Friday – unbeknownst to Savoie, said Reptile Ocean employee Tim Thomas.
Thomas is especially torn up about the euthanized alligators.
“I understand they killed the [African rock python], but to kill these gators, no – it’s not right,” he said.
He’s among several supporters who argue blame for the Barthe brothers’ deaths is being unfairly placed on Savoie.
Savioe, who spoke with Global News in an interview Monday in which he said the Barthe brothers were like his own children, did not return calls for comment later this week.
Savoie originally received a permit in 1996 to operate Reptile Ocean as a zoo and educational exhibit. What isn’t clear is who gave it to him, and whether anyone followed up over the following 17 years.
“I know when he opened in 1996 and he was permitted to operate what he started as a zoo or under an educational/vocational thing. And things progressed and progressed and progressed over the years, so that’s why we’re not going to comment much on what happened after. But when you go back to 1996 he was permitted,” said Campbellton Deputy Mayor Ian Comeau.
Reptile Ocean has been registered the province’s corporate database under various designations over the past several years – including “exotics zoo and pet store,” “exotic animals exhibit” and “reptile zoo/pet store.” But beginning in 2010 and for the two years following, Reptile Ocean’s referred to as “pet store starting in Sept. 2011. Previously reptile display.”
New Brunswick animal control officers went to Reptile Ocean that month, responding to a complaint about a tortoise. The officers found the animal in good condition. They did not inspect the premises.
New Brunswick’s Department of Natural Resources has said repeatedly that permits for prohibited animals “are reserved for accredited zoos. Permits are not issued for private pet ownership.”
But it would not clarify its involvement in Savoie’s original licence, any subsequent inspections or the permit Environment Canada would have needed to bring a python and an alligator into the province.
The scramble for clarification as to who approved what illustrates how tangled Canada’s zoo policies are, says Massimo Bergamini, executive director of Canadian Accredited Zoos Association. CAZA has been pushing for national rules (it would prefer them to be based on its own accreditation policies).
“The problem is that in Canada we have a wide range of differing rules with respect to exotic animals. In some cases provincial rules apply, in others, such as Ontario, municipal bylaws apply,” Bergamini said.
“In some jurisdictions you have inspection-based licensing, while in others you have nothing more than a business license.”
Meanwhile, Connor and Noah Barthe will be buried together Saturday afternoon at Campbellton’s St. Thomas Aquinas Church.
And while their parents Mandy Trecartin and Andrew Barthe have sought privacy throughout the week, Barthe broke his silence with a Facebook post Thursday.
“We all grieve in our own way,” he said. “Being a private person, I do not feel that I need to display my emotions to the whole world.”
And Barthe, who is no longer in a relationship with the boys’ mother, said he was very active in his sons’ lives despite living apart.
“One of the questions I frequently see is “Where is the father in all of this?” I want it to be known that I have very much been a part of Connor and Noah’s lives,” he wrote.
Barthe spent almost every weekend with his sons. “Unfortunately, this last weekend was one of the weekends that I did not.”
With files from Shelley Steeves in Moncton, Laura Brown in Campbellton
Descriptions for Reptile Ocean, Inc. in New Brunswick’s annual provincial business filings:
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