Horse death ignites discussion over consumer fireworks in Nova Scotia
Animal advocate, fire official agree education is the best prevention
New Year's Eve fireworks in a small Nova Scotia community that a resident says led to the death of her horse has renewed discussions in the province over the public's use of pyrotechnics.
The horse was spooked by fireworks being set off around 6:30 p.m. local time in Canning, N.S., just as Dawn Golding was bringing her horses into a barn for supper.
The horse ran off, suffered a compound fracture and had to be euthanized.
Outrage over the incident has sparked a petition to the Nova Scotia government to ban the sale and use of consumer fireworks, the kind sold for use by the general public. The petition has garnered more than 2,600 signatures in just a few days.
But other members of the public have expressed online that they feel fireworks are an enjoyable tradition that are generally harmless to most.
Pam Levy, a horse owner who lives just outside Middle Musquodoboit, N.S., started the petition and a Facebook group to discuss the issue.
Levy said she spent hours on New Year's Eve trying to calm her horses as fireworks exploded in the distance. When she heard about Golding's horse, it was the last straw.
"I think something just snapped at that point with me and I was so angry that this was all happening," said Levy, adding she has been shocked by how much traction her Facebook group and petition has received.
The petition notes that fireworks can cause terror, pain and even death in animals, including pets, livestock and wildlife due to the unexpected noise they produce and hazardous materials they are made from. It also argues they can be detrimental to people with autism and mental health disorders such as PTSD.
Levy said while she is pushing for an outright ban, she realizes that may not be realistic. She said at the very least, she's hoping her efforts will draw attention to the issue and help educate people about the possible negative effects of their fiery celebrations.
"Hopefully the end result would be just for people to kind of have a look at why as a culture, we feel like it's OK to put people and animals at risk," she said.
"Along with hoping that there would be some sort of way to police this, we would also hope it would cause people just to stop and think that maybe there's something a little bit more important than setting off their fireworks."
What's happening elsewhere in Canada
Nova Scotia currently does not have a law governing fireworks.
In a statement, provincial government spokesperson Tina Thibeau said the petition was not "currently under consideration by government."
"Municipalities may have bylaws in place for when consumer fireworks can be used," the statement said.
The province's Fire Safety Act states that "every owner of land or premises, or a part thereof, and every person shall take every precaution that is reasonable in the circumstances to achieve fire safety."
Various jurisdictions across Canada have looked into banning consumer fireworks.
The City of Vancouver implemented a ban on the sale, possession and discharge of fireworks on Nov. 1, 2020, which carries a fine of $1,000.
Deputy Chief Rob Renning of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services said while the ban was primarily to prevent property damage — upward of $379,000 on average per year — it also took into consideration the environmental impacts, complaints from residents and members of the public with mental health disorders.
Renning said on the face of it, the ban has worked. Property damage plunged down to only $13,500 last year.
Education a priority
But he conceded enforcement is a challenge, due to the difficulty in identifying those responsible, and getting to the scene quickly enough to actually witness the offence.
However, he said the department was more focused on education and awareness during the ban's first year — they didn't issue a single ticket.
Renning said educating the public of the possible dangers of lighting fireworks has been their priority, and that combined with the ban, it has appeared to deter people.
Meanwhile, in B.C.'s Regional District of Nanaimo, a staff report investigating a possible ban in the Vancouver Island community echoed Renning's comments on the difficulties in enforcing a ban.
"Education and awareness campaigns may be more effective in reducing the discharge of fireworks," said the report from June 8, 2021.
"Such campaigns could emphasize noise pollution, environmental destruction, forest fire risk and risks to wildlife and domestic pets."
The Halifax Regional Municipality notes on its website that it does not have bylaws related specifically to fireworks, however, noise bylaws restrict when fireworks can be used to Canada Day, Natal Day and New Year's Eve.
Last June, a municipal staff report looked at the logistics of bringing in so-called "silent fireworks" for municipal events, after Coun. David Hendsbee requested the report last February.
The report said while they are not silent, they are quieter than commercial fireworks and the "low-altitude, low-noise" products are being used in Banff and Canmore, Alta.
The Canadian National Fireworks Association, which advocates for fair access, safety and responsible regulation of the industry, did not respond to a request for comment.
Hope Swinimer, founder of Hope for Wildlife in Seaforth, N.S., said it's worth exploring different options from traditional fireworks, given the damage they can cause to the environment, animals and humans.
She noted they contain metals like copper and lithium, and when they explode, they can be toxic to the environment. The fumes can be toxic to birds, and the sound can be damaging to the hearing of some animals and send them into a panic.
But she recognized there is a balance to be struck, echoing the importance of education and awareness about the effects of fireworks in the hopes that people, at the very least, will inform their neighbours before setting them off.
"I do think it's important to keep our traditions and celebrations intact," said Swinimer. "But we can make changes to the way we do things and still carry on new traditions and new celebrations in just a little bit of a different way.
"Once people are educated, they may make wiser choices."