06/23/2015 12:48 EDT | Updated 06/23/2016 05:59 EDT

Regulation of exotic animals gets greater scrutiny in New Brunswick after deaths

MONCTON, N.B. - A task force appointed by the New Brunswick government after two young boys were killed by an African rock python in 2013 is calling for greater enforcement of regulations governing exotic animals and the immediate inspection of all sites where exotic animals are kept.

All of its 29 recommendations on how to improve the management of exotic animals in the province were accepted Tuesday by Natural Resources Minister Denis Landry. He says his department will create a committee to ensure they are implemented.

"Our government is committed to ensuring that New Brunswickers live in the safest communities possible, and that is why we are pleased to accept the report and its recommendations in its entirety," Landry said Tuesday at a news conference in Moncton.

The task force was established last July after the August 2013 deaths of four-year-old Noah Barthe and his six-year-old brother Connor. The boys were asphyxiated inside an apartment in Campbellton where they were staying for a sleepover.

A man charged in their deaths has elected to be tried by a jury. Jean-Claude Savoie is charged with criminal negligence causing death and his case is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in November.

The RCMP alleged at the time that the 45-kilogram snake escaped a glass tank through a vent and slithered through a ventilation pipe, but its weight caused the pipe to collapse and it fell into the living room where the boys were sleeping.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Task Force chairman, Bruce Dougan, said it was important to dedicate the report to the memory of Noah and Connor, but wouldn't comment further on that case because it is before the courts.

However, Campbellton Mayor Bruce MacIntosh said he feels recommendations of the report might have avoided the tragedy.

"It probably would have if we had had the supervision," MacIntosh said.

Among the recommendations is a call for the immediate inspection of all sites involved in the public display, sale, research and commercial farming of exotic animals.

It also calls for improved enforcement of regulations and greater public education on exotic species, and it wants inspection standards established for all categories of exotic animals.

Dougan, who is also manager of Moncton's Magnetic Hill Zoo, said the report can lead to positive change.

"I believe we produced a report that will help strengthen laws and regulations for the province," he added.

"We feel that the province already has a strong set of rules and regulations surrounding exotic animal possession and trade in our province, but as is the case with many things, there is always room for improvement."

Landry said the government will work with groups who deal with exotic animals to implement the task force's recommendations as soon as possible.

Landry said he'll take direction from the implementation committee on the amount of resources and number of inspectors that will be needed.

"Maybe we have those people in place but are not using them as they should be used. Does it take two, three, 10? I don't have a clue."


Highlights of recommendations made by a task force on exotic animals in New Brunswick:

— The government should create a committee to develop a policy and process for communicating the roles and responsibilities of all agencies involved in the care and control of exotic species.

— Law enforcement officers need a mechanism to issue tickets for offences related to exotic animals.

— A comprehensive public education initiative should be developed to explain the laws on what exotic species are legal to own, the challenges of owning an exotic animal and the dangers associated with them.

— An advisory committee should be established to periodically review of the list of exotic animals that are allowed without a permit under the Fish and Wildlife Act.

— The New Brunswick Veterinary Medical Association should be made aware of the list of exotic animals that are permitted in province, and be reminded that any animal not on the list should be reported to the Department of Natural Resources.