Hamilton

Why wasn't woman who tried to put a live swan in her car charged?

The federal government is standing by Halton police's decision not to charge a woman after she was caught trying to stuff a live trumpeter swan into her car in Burlington last week — even though her actions do appear to fly in the face of Canada's own bird laws.

Canadian law says no one can 'be in possession of a migratory bird or nest'

Federal officials say Halton police officers made the right move in not charging a woman who was trying to take a trumpeter swan from LaSalle Park last week. (Submitted by Meera Sulaiman)

The federal government is standing by Halton police's decision not to charge a woman after she was caught trying to stuff a live trumpeter swan into her car in Burlington last week — even though her actions do appear to fly in the face of Canada's own bird laws.

Animal activists were aghast after news of the incident broke, and pointed to several laws they believed were contravened. The federal Migratory Birds Convention Act does state that unless a person has an excuse, no one can "be in possession of a migratory bird or nest." 

The act lays out penalties like fines and jail time for contravening the act. 

Hamilton police's marine unit also chimed about the incident in on twitter, saying "We remind people that abducting (or attempting to abduct) a swan from [Hamilton] Harbour could result in arrest and charges under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act."

But in an email, Environment and Climate Change Canada spokesperson Marilyne Lavoie said Halton police's decision not to charge the woman was appropriate.

"Environment and Climate Change Canada's enforcement officers met with Halton Regional Police Service to review and assess multiple complaints that a woman allegedly took possession of a Trumpeter Swan from Burlington Beach," she wrote.

"After conferring with the attending police officer, it was determined no harm came to the bird and the action taken by the Halton Regional Police Service was appropriate."

Lavoie did not immediately answer follow up questions about what specifically led officers to come to that decision.

Concerned citizens alert police

The incident itself happened on March 11. That's when concerned citizens at LaSalle Park approached a police officer, saying they saw a woman trying to put a bird in her vehicle.

They also told the officer they saw the woman trying to remove a tag on the swan's wing.

Officers arrived and intervened. In the end, the woman did not face any charges. That's because, police said at the time, the swan is no one's property, and therefore can't be considered for a criminal theft charge.

Liz Benneian, a spokesperson for the Trumpeter Swan Coalition, told CBC News that the real issue here is laws around animal welfare in Canada are too vague.

"The overarching problem is the rules are not very clear in regards to animals in general," she said.

Swans now migrating to nesting sites

Benneian said it appears to her that the woman's actions were illegal.

As an example, she said that if a person comes upon an injured wild animal, they can't simply take it home and care for it. Instead, she said, it has to go to a certified rehabilitation centre.

"I don't know how grabbing a trumpeter swan and trying to put it in your car is different," she said.

At their peak earlier this year, about 200 trumpeter swans were living in LaSalle Park, which is the largest overwintering site for these birds in Canada. While the birds were once almost hunted out of existence in North America, decades of restoration work have brought them back from the brink of extinction.

Pairs of swans have now started heading for their nesting sites in northern Ontario as the weather warms.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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