FREDERICTON — New Brunswick is introducing new legislation to regulate exotic animals, four years after two young boys were killed by an African rock python.
Four-year-old Noah Barthe and his six-year-old brother, Connor, died after the python escaped its enclosure while they slept in a family friend's apartment in Campbellton in August 2013.
Energy and Resource Development Minister Rick Doucet said Tuesday the new Exotic Animals Act will strengthen safeguards for public safety and human health, and the health and safety of native species and their habitats.
"Chances are, if the legislation had been in place in 2013 we would not be here today," said Bruce Dugan, chairman of the province's Exotic Animal Task Force, which in 2015 recommended the government review existing laws.
Better communication between different agencies and regular inspections would have made the difference, he said.
"There are going to be instances where things slip through the cracks no matter how much legislation, regulation and enforcement you have in place, but in this particular case I don't think we'd be here today if the legislation had been in place in 2013," Dugan said.
African rock pythons were not allowed in New Brunswick at the time without specific permits. Savoie did not have one.
The python was kept in a large enclosure within the apartment of reptile store owner Jean-Claude Savoie, where the Barthe brothers were attending a sleepover. Last November, a jury found Savoie not guilty of criminal negligence causing death.
The python escaped by travelling through a ventilation duct and dropping into the living room where the boys slept. A pathologist said the boys died of asphyxiation, and each was covered in puncture wounds from snake bites.
It's just nice to know that their death isn't in vain — that the government did take it seriously, and they acted.Campbellton Mayor Stephanie Anglehart-Paulin
The snake was about 3.7 metres long and weighed about 24 kilograms.
The boys had spent the day petting animals and playing at a farm owned by Savoie's father. An expert testified at Savoie's trial that snakes become more aggressive when they detect possible sources of food — and an attack would have been unlikely had there been no animal smells on the boys.
Campbellton Mayor Stephanie Anglehart-Paulin said Tuesday her community on the province's north shore suffered an emotional blow with the boys' deaths, and the new legislation will help.
"It's just nice to know that their death isn't in vain — that the government did take it seriously, and they acted. We can't go back. We can't press rewind, but we certainly can make it better to go forward," she said.
She said there are a lot of mixed emotions.
"We were torn between having lost children and having lost a community member. We were all aware and we were all guilty to know that, that place was there. We were bringing our school children there. Then all of a sudden we had to be mad at this gentleman for operating this. It's a little of both," Anglehart-Paulin said.
Dugan, of the Magnetic Hill Zoo, said the government has completed 14 of the task force's recommendations, and is in the process of acting on 13 more, leaving just two outstanding.
The proposed legislation will regulate the import, possession, sale, public display, propagation, export and release of exotic animals.
Exotic pet owners will have a year to comply
The province will compile a list of exotic animals not requiring a permit, and all others will require one through the Department of Energy and Resource Development.
Doucet said the legislation's definition of exotic animal will include certain fish, wildlife and invertebrates such as scorpions and spiders.
He said the legislation, which will include fines of up to $20,000, will be introduced in the coming days. Exotic pet owners would have a year to comply.