Group releases photos of 'Swantanamo Bay'

A coalition of animal rights groups is calling on Ottawa to release its Royal Swans from a facility activists have dubbed "Swantanamo Bay."

A coalition of animal rights groups is calling on Ottawa to release its Royal Swans from a facility activists have dubbed "Swantanamo Bay."

This spring, the city decided to keep its 12 swans inside its winter facility for the summer to protect the birds from contracting avian influenza from wild birds.

Descendants of birds presented to the city by the Queen in 1967, the Royal Swans are usually released onto the Rideau River for the summer, then rounded up and put back in the winter facility on Leitrim Road in the fall.

But while city officials claim conditions at the facility are top-notch, the coalition says photos offering a glimpse inside the facility show cramped, inhumane conditions.

"When you look at those pictures taken through the window, I mean it looks absolutely terrible in there. It's dark, it's dingy, there's no space for them to swim. So, why are we doing this in Ottawa?" said environmentalist Ann Coffey, who is with the coalition.

Chris Roberts, who took the photos, say they show small, dirty indoor pools and cramped outdoor pens either overgrown with weeds or scattered with feathers— a sign, activists say, that the birds are under stress.

"It was an embarrassment," she said. "I wouldn't keep a pet in that environment."

She said the pens had barely enough room for a bird the size of a swan to flap its wings.

Inside, she said the conditions didn't look much better, with dirty pools of water.

The coalition claims that there has never been a case of avian flu reported in migratory birds in North America, and no other jurisdiction has taken the step of locking its swans up.

It's not the first time the city has come under fire for its decision. Last month, Baseline Coun. Rick Chiarelli criticized the city for making the decision based on false information, arguing there is no proof the swans are at risk of contracting avian flu.

But the city is sticking to its decision.

In a memo to councillors, deputy city manager Steve Kanellakos insisted the facility is the "envy" of other jurisdictions.

The memo states that each pair of swans has its own enclosure, complete with private swimming areas and bedded resting areas. It also notes that a strict cleaning and maintenance schedule is in place.

The coalition says it may already be too late to release the swans this summer, but if the city's unwilling to release the birds next year, it should seriously consider giving them away.

A request by the CBC to tour the Leitrim Road facility was turned down by the city.