By Marie Woolf, The Globe and Mail
The federal government has been accused of dragging its feet over its promise to ban the import of elephant ivory and rhino horn, including from trophy hunts in Africa.
Animal-welfare organizations and MPs say they are disappointed by Ottawa’s lack of action on the import of ivory, saying Canada is lagging other countries, including Britain and the United States, in protecting elephants and rhinos whose numbers have decreased rapidly over the past 40 years.
After the 2021 federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mandated Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault to tighten the rules to end the “elephant and rhinoceros tusk trade in Canada.”
The promise was made after a petition of 600,000 Canadians and a campaign to end the elephant ivory trade in Canada, backed by singer-songwriter Bryan Adams and Star Trek star William Shatner.
Barry MacKay, director of the Animal Alliance of Canada, said he feared the delay could be because the government fears Canada’s export of Narwhal tusks and walrus ivory could come under the spotlight – or even be the subject of retaliation.
“Some populations of elephants, and at least two species of Asian rhino, are so reduced in number that if a ban saved a single individual animal, it would be worth it,” said Mr. MacKay.
Since 1980, the number of elephants in Africa has fallen from 1.3 million to around 400,000, a decline of 70 per cent.
Animal-welfare groups argue that allowing a legal trade in ivory and rhino horn provides an incentive for poaching. It is legal in Canada to import elephant ivory with required permits under CITES, an international agreement ensuring that trade in wild animals does not threaten their survival.
Michael Bernard, Canada’s deputy director of Humane Society International, urged the government to “move swiftly” and introduce a strict ban “as African elephants and rhinos are facing extinction within the next few decades and simply do not have any more time to wait.”
He said the ban should outlaw the import of ivory from stockpiles, as well as tusks as hunting trophies.
“Canadians are shocked to learn that we still allow the trade of elephant ivory and rhino horn, including hunting trophies,” he added.
The African forest elephant is listed as critically endangered and the African savanna elephant as endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
The critically endangered African black rhino modestly recovered between 2012 and 2018, from an estimated 4,845 to 5,630 animals in the wild. The more numerous white rhino is categorized as “near threatened” on the Red List.
At the 2016 conference of CITES signatories in South Africa, a resolution was adopted urging nations with a legal ivory market “that is contributing to poaching or illegal trade” to take action “to close their domestic markets for commercial trade in raw and worked ivory as a matter of urgency.”
In 2016, the U.S. announced federal regulations implementing a near complete ban on commercial elephant ivory trade.
Britain brought forward a near total ban on the import, export and dealing of items containing elephant ivory in 2018. The ban covered ivory items of all ages, including antiques, with just a few exemptions.
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said it was “time we delivered,” saying a ban could be implemented swiftly through changes to Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulations.
He said adopting a wider animal protection bill – also restricting the ownership of elephants and other wild animals – was another option.
“The Environment Minister is seized with the issue and wants to see the mandate commitment through, but the government collectively needs to move much faster to get it done,” he said.
Kaitlin Power, spokeswoman for Mr. Guilbeault, said the Environment Department held consultations in 2021 “to gather input on a range of potential additional regulatory measures that could be undertaken to address global concerns regarding the elephant ivory trade.”
“The comments received during the consultation period have been carefully considered,” she added.