Monkeys on a Plane

Two weeks ago, the Toronto Sun caused a stir when it reported that Air Canada was in the business of shipping baby monkeys from breeding farms in China to biomedical labs in Canada. The paper was acting on a tip from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), who in turn were acting on a tip from a whistle blower at Pearson International Airport. The whistle blower claimed that Air Canada had kept 48 monkeys in their cargo crates for 15 hours overnight, while awaiting the final leg of their journey to a lab in Laval, Quebec. The monkeys had arrived from Beijing.

The story quickly went viral, with people around the world expressing outrage at the airline, and with Canadians from sea to sea to sea expressing incredulity that monkey rendition would be taking place on our soil. What's more, many people were shocked to learn that painful, invasive research is conducted on monkeys in Canadian labs every day--in this case, just a short drive west from our most cosmopolitan and sophisticated city, Montreal.

What strikes me most about this story is Air Canada's response to it. Spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told CBC that Air Canada is obliged by law to accept monkeys as cargo.

"As a public carrier," he says, "Air Canada can only refuse carriage in very limited situations. We cannot by law refuse the carriage of animals for the sole reason that they could ultimately be destined to a laboratory or for research. We must comply with this 1998 Canadian Transportation Agency [CTA] ruling."

The law needs to change. According to BUAV, Air Canada is one of the few passenger airlines that still transports live animals to their doom. British Airways, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Northwest Airlines, Qantas Airways, South African Airways, Delta Airlines, Eva Air and China Airlines have all stopped flying primates for the purposes of "sacrifice" in biomedical labs. According to Fitzpatrick, Air Canada tried to refuse a shipment of animals destined for labs in 1998; that's when the CTA issued their ruling.

It's high time the CTA reversed itself on this issue, so that Air Canada can stop hiding behind it. The airline should be free to take a stand against animals in research, or take full corporate responsibility for their lack of ethics. A few years ago, the airline stopped shipping beagles destined for a research lab in Paris, but this decision wasn't based on ethics at all. The company had received too many complaints from passengers about the noise (i.e., incessant barking) coming from the cargo hold.

Apparently, if monkeys had stronger voices (or an engaged government agency to howl on their behalf), primate rendition might come to an end in Canada.