Health Canada Says it Will Continue to Ignore Pain & Suffering Caused by Poisons Used to Kill Wolves, Coyotes, & Bears

Each year in Canada, hundreds of animals—including companion dogs and endangered species—suffer agonizing deaths after being poisoned by pesticides intended to kill wolves, coyotes, and black bears. Strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide are indiscriminate poisons that cause unimaginable pain and suffering to the animals that consume poisoned baits or the bodies of other poisoned victims.

A December 2020 poll by Environics, commissioned by Animal Justice and Wolf Awareness, showed that 69% of Canadians believe that the risks posed by these poisons are unacceptable. Due to public concerns about the inhumane and unethical nature of these poisons, including a letter from more than 50 experts calling on Canada to ban them, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (“PMRA”) launched a public consultation on “Humane Vertebrate Pest Control” in 2018.  The government asked Canadians whether it should include “humaneness considerations” when it registers pesticides intended to kill large predators. 

More than 4,000 individual Canadians and organizations wrote to the government, with most asking that it consider the suffering caused by these poisons, or that it ban them all together. Yet on January 29, 2021, Health Canada announced that it would continue to ignore “humaneness” considerations when it assesses the risks of these poisons and registers them for use.

Strychnine, Compound 1080, & sodium cyanide cause extreme suffering

Sodium cyanide is placed in spring-loaded “bombs” with bait lures. When an animal tugs on the bait, the spring shoots cyanide into their mouth, causing internal bleeding, seizures, and lung failure leading to death. Strychnine is known to cause some of the most dramatic and painful symptoms of any poison, including prolonged and agonizing muscular convulsions that can last for hours or even days before an animal dies from exhaustion or suffocation. Due to its gruesome nature, it featured prominently in Agatha Christie murder mystery novels. Compound 1080 causes vomiting, convulsions, intense pain, and hallucinations. Symptoms can last hours or even days before an animal ultimately dies due to cardiac failure or respiratory arrest.  

In addition to being cruel and unethical, these poisons are environmentally irresponsible. Baits are often consumed by non-target species, including companion dogs and endangered species. Animals poisoned by strychnine or Compound 1080 can travel great distances before dying, with their bodies then causing secondary poisoning in animals that scavenge on their remains.

Health Canada ignores “humaneness considerations”

So how does Health Canada justify registering strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide for use without regard to the prolonged pain and suffering that the poisons cause wolves, coyotes, bears and all other animal victims?   

In its Information Notice, the PMRA notes that provinces have their own animal protection laws. These laws generally make it an offence to cause an animal to be in distress. What the Notice fails to mention is that all of those laws exempt distress caused by generally accepted pest control practices.  

The Notice also explains that while Health Canada registers pesticides for use, provinces, territories, and municipalities can nonetheless impose further restrictions. Indeed, only Saskatchewan and Alberta still allow the use of strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide. But Health Canada is still responsible for assessing the risks posed by pesticides before approving them for use in Canada. The fact that Alberta and Saskatchewan could choose to stop using these poisons is no reason for Health Canada to pass the buck and ignore what veterinarians and scientific experts know to be true—that these poisons are cruel and cause animals to suffer in excruciating pain, sometimes for hours or even days, before dying.

Another justification put forward by Health Canada is that alternative methods used to protect livestock and vulnerable wildlife species from predators “do not always successfully deter predators from killing or causing harm”. This is true. No approach is 100% effective. But the Notice fails to acknowledge emerging scientific evidence suggesting that placing indiscriminate poisons in an ecosystem is not an effective way to protect livestock or vulnerable wildlife species. Non-lethal alternatives are more effective.

Finally, Health Canada justifies its decision not to consider humaneness on the grounds that strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide are used only as a last resort and are subject to strict use conditions. Unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest frequent non-compliance with these conditions, including problems with record keeping and storage, as well as failure to monitor bait sites to remove the poisoned bodies of animals. Existing use conditions are not enough to protect animals or the environment.

In December of 2020, Animal Justice and Wolf Awareness, with the support of dozens of animal and environmental protection groups, requested that the Minister of Health conduct a special review of products containing strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide and ban their use in Canada. Even if Health Canada chooses to ignore the evidence we provided about the severe and prolonged pain and suffering these poisons cause to target and non-target animals, we remain hopeful that the Minister will conduct a special review in light of evidence that non-compliance with label conditions is common. Lack of oversight and non-compliance with conditions on use increases the health and environmental risks posed by these dangerous poisons.  

A special review is also needed due to the serious and unacceptable risks the poisons pose to non-target animals, including endangered species and companion dogs. In fact, just last year the PMRA decided to phase out the use of strychnine to kill ground squirrels because of environmental risks, including the deaths of thousands of non-target mammals and songbirds each year.

We are disappointed that Health Canada has decided to continue ignoring “humaneness considerations”, but strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide are so terrible that, even if Health Canada ignores the cruel nature of these poisons, there are still clear and compelling reasons for the government to ban their use in Canada. Take action now and tell the PMRA to do the right thing and put an end to this cruel, outdated, and ineffective practice.

Take action to stop the use of cruel poisons to kill wildlife

Animals such as wolves, coyotes, and black bears are not “pests”. They do not pose risks to human health or the environment, and in fact provide important benefits for the ecosystems in which they live. These sentient, intelligent animals deserve our compassion and respect.  

Please take action now and tell the Minister to ban the use of strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide to kill wildlife in Canada.  


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