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Senate passes bill that would ban whale, dolphin captivity in Canada

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After a multi-year legislative battle, a bill to outlaw keeping cetaceans like whales and dolphins in captivity has cleared the Senate — all but ensuring the end of a once-popular theme park attraction in Canada.

S-203 — first introduced by now-retired Liberal senator Wilfred Moore in December 2015, with the backing of Green Party Leader Elizabeth May — would ban keeping and breeding these marine mammals in captivity through amendments to the Criminal Code.

Fines of up to $200,000 could be imposed on parks flouting the law — a sum set deliberately high as a deterrent.

I have been there. I have been to the Vancouver Aquarium. I see the joy on these cetaceans faces’ — on the belugas’ faces — when they come out and get food.– Conservative Manitoba Sen. Don Plett

The bill finally cleared the Red Chamber Tuesday night after nearly three years of debate and study. It now will be shuttled through the House of Commons by May.

The bill has the support of MPs from across the political spectrum, including Liberal Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Conservative Michelle Rempel and New Democrat Fin Donnelly.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel supports Bill S-203, which would ban keeping or breeding cetaceans in captivity. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The bill’s passage in the upper house comes after years of advocacy work by animal welfare advocates, who have long argued that holding these highly intelligent creatures in concrete tanks is a cruel and perverse form of entertainment.

The fight for cetacean rights picked up considerable public support after the release of the 2013 documentary film Blackfish, which documented some of the perils involved in holding whales, dolphins and porpoises in parks like Sea World.

The Senate bill really has two targets in mind: the Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont.

The Vancouver Aquarium once defended holding these mammals in captivity on both scientific and educational grounds, but recently said it would no longer display whales or dolphins at its facility as protests over captivity have become a “distraction” for the business.

Marineland has been a vocal opponent of the Senate bill, saying it would devastate attendance — and threaten conservation efforts — at theme parks where these animals are on display. It has also said the bill threatens the seasonal employment of hundreds of local residents during the summer months.

Marineland’s owner, John Holler, testified at a Senate committee before his death last summer, asking senators to halt the bill. Today, Marineland issued a statement calling S-203 anti-science.

“Bill S-203 was not supported by the relevant ministries or the credible scientific community,” says the statement. “Sadly, it impairs legitimate scientific and research programs and is explicitly targeted to close Marineland.

“The bill and the debate around it (have) been highly emotional, lacking in fact-based or science-based analysis and mired in unnecessary conflict incited by radical animal rights groups from the United States.”

The Senate bill would, through the breeding ban, phase out captivity over time. That means Marineland would still be able to keep its current stock of some 55 cetaceans even if the legislation is passed by the Commons.

The hope of many activists is that some or all of the marine mammals currently in captivity in Canada eventually would be moved to an open water seaside sanctuary in either B.C. or Nova Scotia.

The bill would also prohibit the importing of cetaceans, or their sperm, tissue cultures or embryos.

Holler had an ally in Conservative Manitoba Sen. Don Plett, who has steadfastly opposed the Senate bill. Plett continually sought to put off a vote through the creative use of some parliamentary procedure.

The Senate fisheries committee, of which Plett was a member, studied the bill for some eight months over 17 committee meetings with more than 30 witnesses — considerably more time than a Senate public bill typically spends under scrutiny at committee.

Conservative Manitoba Sen. Don Plett poses for a picture with John Holer, the owner of Niagara Falls’ Marineland. (Twitter)

Plett relented Tuesday night — but not without defending the record of these facilities.

“I asked the sponsor of this bill, Sen. Moore, and other members of the fisheries committee whether any of them had ever made a trip to Marineland to inspect this ‘horrendous’ facility that everybody is talking about — to inspect this small little bathtub that these whales are swimming around in,” he said.

“I have been there. I have been to the Vancouver Aquarium. I see the joy on these cetaceans faces’ — on the belugas’ faces — when they come out and get food.”

Meanwhile, another Manitoba senator, Independent Sen. Mary Jane McCallum, painted a vivid picture of these parks as terrible places for marine mammals.

“An adult female beluga whale lying motionless below the body of her dead baby calf; an orca lying motionless on her side, floating towards the top of the tank, heavily sedated from an accidental overdose of Valium; a sharp, rust-coloured, steel-edged grate covered in blood, the result of carelessly transporting a beluga whale between tanks,” she said.

“Finally, an indoor tank lacking both natural light and quality air ventilation, and now a sickly green colour caused by a breakdown in the disinfection unit …

“These disturbing visuals I have painted for you are actual photographs submitted to the standing Senate committee on fisheries and oceans by a former marine mammal trainer.”

Senate passes shark fin ban

The Senate passed another animal welfare bill Tuesday: S-238, which will ban the import and export of shark fin products.

Conservative Nova Scotia Sen. Michael MacDonald, who tabled the bill, has said the practice has done vast damage to the world’s shark population — which has declined nearly 80 per cent over the last 50 years.

Canada is the world’s third largest importer of shark fins, surpassed only by mainland China and Hong Kong, where shark fin soup is a popular delicacy among the wealthy. In 2015 alone, Canada imported over 144,000 kilograms of shark fins.

“Tens of millions of sharks are left to die every year for nothing but the prestige associated with a bowl of shark fin soup,” MacDonald said.

That bill will now be sent to the Commons for further debate among MPs.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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