Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Circus roars over proposed animal ban

Threatens city with legal challenge

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A tiger leaps over its handler at the Super Spring Break Circus at the MTS Centre in March.

JESSICA BURTNICK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

A tiger leaps over its handler at the Super Spring Break Circus at the MTS Centre in March. Photo Store

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the greatest show... in court?

If Winnipeg bans circuses from using exotic animals, the decision could be legally challenged, and such bylaws have been successfully overturned in other Canadian cities, says a circus promoter.

The warning was issued Wednesday by Larry Solheim, general manager of TZ Productions, which operates circuses under the name Royal Canadian Circus and Shrine Circuses.

The company's producer is Tarzan Zerbini, a longtime circus performer and owner whose family has been in the circus business since 1763.

Solheim, who said he is also representing other prominent circuses including the Ringling Brothers, said Winnipeg should set up regulations to prevent bad animal operators from operating, not penalize good operators such as his company.

"If passed here as is, without further study, I believe the bylaw will be challengeable," Solheim told councillors at the civic executive policy committee Wednesday.

"We are prepared to take that action."

But if so, Solheim will have to tame Bill McDonald, executive director of the Winnipeg Humane Society, who was so upset about the challenge he issued his own.

"Using the threat of legal challenges I consider sinking to a new low," McDonald said.

"Bring it on and I will go out and raise money for this council's defence."

After the meeting, McDonald said he was "delighted" that despite Solheim's plea, EPC decided Wednesday to support the ban on circuses using exotic animals, which now goes to city council.

"The confinement of wild animals just can't continue," McDonald said. "They spend months and months in cages on the road. It's no life for a wild animal."

The exotic-animal ban is part of the city's proposed responsible pet ownership bylaw that includes cat licensing.

The entire bylaw, which includes continuing a ban on the raising of chickens in the city except for areas zoned agriculture and tightening up what types and sizes of snakes and reptiles can be owned, was approved by EPC on Wednesday. The whole proposal goes to next week's city council meeting for final approval.

If approved, the bylaw would take effect immediately, except for cat licensing, which would begin on Jan. 1, 2015, with $15 annual fees for spayed and neutered cats and $50 for intact cats.

About $83,000 of the money raised would go to spay and neuter programs.

Solheim told councillors the circus industry had already mounted successful legal challenges in Toronto, Newmarket and Windsor in recent years.

Later, Solheim told reporters the charter decisions were based on the rights of performers to work with exotic animals being violated.

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) said the decisions of Ontario courts are not binding in Manitoba.

"I think this is a ban we should go through with," Mayes said.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Is the city’s proposed pet bylaw fair in charging for a licence for cats that do not go outside? Join the Conversation in the comments below

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 11, 2013 B2

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Updated on Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 6:59 AM CDT: Adds photo, adds question for discussion

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