Ottawa accused of dragging feet on pledge to ban import of elephant ivory,
Marie Woolf, The Globe and Mail
March 6, 2023
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
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
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
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
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.