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N.B. government under renewed pressure to overhaul exotic-animal laws

Noah Barthe, left, and Connor Barthe of Campbellton, N.B., were asphyxiated by an African rock python in August, 2013.

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The New Brunswick government is coming under increasing pressure to conduct a review of provincial exotic wildlife regulations, almost four months after two boys were killed by a species of python that is banned in the province.

Premier David Alward has said his government will launch a review once the RCMP complete their investigation into the Aug. 5 deaths of four-year-old Noah Barthe and his six-year-old brother, Connor. The two boys were asphyxiated by a 45-kilogram African rock python that escaped its enclosure in an apartment above a pet store in Campbellton, N.B.

But the executive director of Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums said there is nothing preventing the government from proceeding with a review to improve public policy without interfering with the police investigation.

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"Let the RCMP do its work, but at the same time the New Brunswick government should be looking to see if its system needs a bit of a facelift," Massimo Bergamini said Wednesday.

"Our contention is that in New Brunswick and many other jurisdictions, it does."

Bergamini said many municipalities in Canada are left to deal with exotic animals through their bylaws, an issue he said needs to be resolved.

"Government needs to look at regulations, look at enforcement, look at the kinds of resources that need to be put in place to ensure that we have a safe system for visitors, for staff and for animals as well," he said.

Last month, the Atlantic Mayors' Congress called on the four provincial governments in their region to look at the issue and develop a regional approach to regulations.

New Brunswick's Opposition Liberals are also urging the Progressive Conservative government to review provisions of the province's Fish and Wildlife Act and other legislation relevant to exotic animals. The party's motion calling for a review is scheduled for debate Thursday.

Health critic Donald Arseneault said the government needs to look at a range of issues including who authorizes permits to how enforcement is done.

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Natural Resources Minister Paul Robichaud said his department is already looking at many of those issues in an internal investigation that has been ongoing since the deaths.

"There is no doubt that the goal of the government, and my goal as minister of natural resources, is to make sure that the situation that took place in Campbellton last summer will never take place again in New Brunswick," Robichaud said.

He said the departmental and RCMP investigations would lead to a government review and changes could be made after that.

"We will probably bring some serious modifications in our exotic pets policies, but we want to wait until the end of the RCMP investigation and we want to complete our investigation," Robichaud said.

"If we have to make some modifications – and we're working in that direction – it will be more appropriate to wait until we receive the recommendations from the RCMP and we will receive from the Department of Natural Resources."

Bergamini is encouraging New Brunswick to follow British Columbia's lead. In 2009, that province introduced regulations that now allow only institutions that are accredited by his group to keep certain classes of exotic animals.

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"That's the kind of policy response we'd like New Brunswick to consider," he said.

New Brunswick's Department of Natural Resources has said only accredited zoos can apply for a permit to own a banned species, including the African rock python that killed the boys.

Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums said it is the only recognized national body to accredit zoos in the country and it has no record of Reptile Ocean, the pet store beneath the apartment where the boys were killed, ever applying for accreditation.

In the days following their deaths, 23 reptiles were seized from the store and four large alligators euthanized.

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