A Canadian Transportation Agency tribunal issued its decision Thursday, dismissing the complaints of health research groups arguing the airline should be required to carry the animals.
It says that Air Canada's (TSX:AC.A) restrictions are reasonable and aren't discriminatory because the carrier risks losing passengers who disagree with research using primates.
The original complaint against the air carrier's policy came from Steven Liss, vice-principal of research at Queen's University, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
They argued the policy unfairly discriminates against them.
They said the tribunal should consider the effect that the refusal to carry the primates would have on the well being of Canadians, the country's international competitiveness and its economic growth.
Queen's University also argued that it was unfair to only exclude animals being used for research, when other animals are routinely transported on flights. The university says that finding other methods of research could cost it between 10 to 15 per cent more per animal.
"Queen's University also points out that animals may need to be transported several thousand kilometres by truck through the United States ... and Canada, which may cause unnecessary stress for the animals," says the decision.
The public health agency said that as a member of the World Organization for Animal Health, Canada subscribes to the principle that animal transportation should be as brief as possible — and that forcing the agency to transport animals by road was less humane.
However, Air Canada argued that it has received 47,000 letters from the public protesting its transport of primates being used for research, and some people threatened to stop travelling with the airline if it didn't refuse to carry the research animals.
The agency accepted in its decision that Air Canada had a legitimate concern of losing passengers that far outweighed the possible loss of income they earn from transporting the primates.
The regulator also said the decision makes business sense for Air Canada, and is increasingly a practice in the aviation industry.
It says there are options available to those who want to ship the animals, and that no international agreement explicitly requires the Canadian government to use air carriers to transport the animals.
Animal rights groups are applauding the ruling, saying Air Canada should be congratulated for refusing to be party to animal cruelty.
"Airlines play a major role in the chain of suffering endured by non-human primates and other animals in laboratories," Liz White, director of Animal Alliance of Canada, said in a news release.
— Story by Michael Tutton in Halifax.