Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Zoos inspection reports stay under wraps: director

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AMID a multimillion-dollar upgrade to Assiniboine Park Zoo, no one seems to know the location of the latest inspection reports.

The city claims the Assiniboine Park Conservancy has the inspection reports, while the park claims city hall has the copies. Thats the upshot of an access-to-information request and numerous phone calls made this fall.

Zoo employees conduct daily inspections while the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums inspects the zoo every five years.

The last CAZA inspection took place in 2008.

A freedom-of-information request seeking copies of those inspection reports was filed last September.

The city responded by saying it keeps no such documents and suggested the park controls the reports.

Numerous calls to the Assiniboine Park Conservancy turned up no information.

In a subsequent phone call, Tim Sinclair-Smith, the director of zoological operations, insisted the city has the CAZA inspection reports. But, he said they are not normally released to the public for fear they will be misinterpreted.

"It is not up to the public to decide what is right and what is wrong. It is best left to the facility to decide," he said.

"Unless you understand the regulations like we do, they are very easy to misinterpret and the last thing we want is people misreading something in the reports... It is not a standard practice of an institution to release them, unless there is a reason (and) we dont have one," he said.

CAZA national director Bill Peters would not release the zoos inspection records, either, saying the documents "are confidential between the commission and the institution in question."

"Assiniboine Park Zoo is a fully accredited member of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums," Peters said.

"A decision to accredit the zoo testifies to the fact it meets our standards."

In addition to routine inspections, CAZA can also make unscheduled visits when problems are brought to its attention.

In total, $200 million will be spent renovating Assiniboine Park, including $42 million in new construction and $58 million earmarked for a new polar-bear enclosure and Arctic interpretive centre.

When Debby the polar bear died in 2008, the zoo announced it had no plans to replace Debby right away, since the existing polar bear enclosure did not meet provincial standards for the species. Other elements of the zoo are considered dated.

enns.lindsey@gmail.com jortho@gmail.com

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OPEN SECRETS

With the help of Free Press staff, students in Red River Colleges Creative Communications program learned how to mine freedom of information legislation for stories governments might not want told. At the start of the school year, students submitted access to information requests about everything from dangerous playgrounds to missing hospital drugs. In response, they got piles of documents and data, and one $26,000 bill. Over the next several weeks, the Free Press will publish some of the stories students uncovered. Visit www.winnipegfreepress.com to see them all.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 2, 2012 A4

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