We can celebrate well without fireworks

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It will be a “New Day” at The Forks this July 1, as organizers opt for a different kind of Canada Day celebration, meant to be more inclusive and considerate. The move, however, has become a very polarizing issue among both politicians and everyday Winnipeggers, with the cancellation of the famous fireworks display being one of the areas of contention.

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Opinion

It will be a “New Day” at The Forks this July 1, as organizers opt for a different kind of Canada Day celebration, meant to be more inclusive and considerate. The move, however, has become a very polarizing issue among both politicians and everyday Winnipeggers, with the cancellation of the famous fireworks display being one of the areas of contention.

But as we take this important moment to reflect on not only what we should and should not be celebrating this Canada Day, let us also reconsider how we celebrate, including with the use of harmful fireworks.

Perhaps you’ve never thought about it before, as you sat with your eyes to the sky, ooh-ing and ah-ing over the colours exploding overhead. Or perhaps you have, as you comforted your terrified dog or cat as they shuddered with each pop and bang.

Whether you have been negatively affected by fireworks, the unpopular truth is that the entertaining explosives are incredibly harmful, not only to companion animals, but also to certain people, wildlife and the environment. Celebrating Canada Day, or any other occasion, should not involve causing such stress for others.

Consider for a moment the many newcomers to Winnipeg, from war-torn countries, as well as veterans of war suffering PTSD, many of whom can be triggered and stressed by fireworks. Consider also the premature babies in the NICU at the nearby St. Boniface Hospital. One Winnipeg couple believes fireworks affected their already-fragile premature twins who died at the hospital the day after Canada Day in 2014. “It was literally like cannons were going off right outside the NICU window,” Joelle Brown told CTV.

Also, think of the abundance of wildlife that inhabits the area where the rivers meet. One researcher at Dalhousie University who has studied the effects of fireworks on nesting birds told CBC News fireworks over bird-rich areas, including waterways, is “a really bad idea.”

“To have, all of the sudden, these fireworks overhead with all the light and all the sound – it would make them crazy,” Andrew Horne said, adding that sudden bursts of sound can flush birds out of their nests and out from cover “when they really shouldn’t be flying out of cover.”

Lesley Fox, executive director of wildlife advocacy organization The Fur Bearers, recently told The Toronto Star wild animals “can become disoriented, confused and panicked” when exposed to fireworks. “Loud booms and crackles disrupt and change animals’ behaviour. Animals may flee from their dens or nests, causing them to run into traffic or fly into buildings. Fireworks can also separate families as parents may need to abandon their young to find safety.”

The Winnipeg Human Society’s animal welfare specialist Brittany Semeniuk agrees, saying wildlife, companion animals and farmed animals can all suffer as a result of fireworks: “Horses, for instance, have strong fight-or-flight instincts, in combination with immaculate hearing capabilities. A potentially fatal combination, as various media outlets have reported horses perishing from life-threatening injuries after being spooked by fireworks.”

And let us also not gloss over the fact fireworks are essentially exploding garbage, sending toxic fumes into the air, which can linger for up to several days, and littering the land and water with pieces of plastic and metal.

“Rather than continuing to contaminate the environment and forcing animals to endure the psychological distress of firework activity,” Semeniuk adds, “it is imperative that we start sourcing responsible alternatives, ones that no longer put animal lives in jeopardy in the name of celebration.”

Thankfully, there are better, more responsible ways to light up the sky in celebration, including with impressive laser shows and drone displays. If The Forks really wants to evolve and make its festivities safer and inclusive for all, it should consider doing away with harmful fireworks for good.

Jessica Scott-Reid is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and animal advocate.

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