Animals in entertainment

Region: Ontario Answer # 4042

Where are animals used for entertainment?

Animals are often used for the purpose of entertaining people. The practice is known as wildlife entertainment, and usually occurs as part of a tourist attraction. Common wildlife attractions can include:

  • Zoos and aquariums
  • Elephant rides
  • Animal performances in circuses
  • Marine parks

What types of animals are used for entertainment?

The types of animals that are typically involved in these attractions are known as exotic animals. Exotic animals are animals that are non-native – animals that do not naturally live in a particular habitat. In Canada, these animals include:

  • Tigers
  • Lions
  • Monkeys
  • Elephants
  • Dolphins (in certain regions)

What are the concerns regarding wildlife entertainment?

Animal health and welfare concerns often arise regarding the use of animals in entertainment. These concerns include:

  • Inadequate living conditions
  • Painful training techniques to ensure submissiveness
  • Forced to display and perform unnatural behaviors
  • Separation from families

While not always the case, animals used for entertainment purposes may experience inhumane treatment, pain, suffering, and physical and/or mental distress and discomfort. They are often required to perform and/or display certain actions which are beyond the physical, social or behavioral capacity of the individual animal or species. For instance, whales and dolphins have evolved to live underwater. However, at marine parks, they are trained to “beach” themselves which can put tremendous stress on their organs resulting in health issues.

Criminal Code of Canada

Both provincial and federal laws exist dealing with the treatment of animals. The Criminal Code is the primary federal law which deals extensively with the protection of animals from cruelty, abuse, and neglect in sections 445-447. Under the Code:

  • Section 445 deals with a number of offences including killing, injuring or endangering animals and causing unnecessary suffering.
  • Section 446 deals with causing damage or injury to animals.
  • Dog and cock fights for betting refers to organized dog and cock fights. These events are used as a form of entertainment and profit, where spectators who attend can bet money on whom the predicted winner will be. They are a form of animal cruelty and are illegal in Canada. Sections 445 and 447 make it illegal to be present at a bird fight, and to engage in activities related to arenas used for animal fighting.

Offences against cetaceans (e.g. whales, dolphins, porpoise)

The Criminal Code makes it illegal to possess and/or breed cetaceans, and hold captive cetaceans for entertainment purposes. The Code defines “cetacean” as any member of the cetacean order, including a whale, dolphin or porpoise. 

Subsection 445.2(2) makes it an offence to:

(a) own, have the custody of, or control a cetacean;

(b) breed or impregnate a cetacean; or

(c) possess or seek to obtain reproductive materials of cetaceans, including sperm or embryos;

with some exceptions.

Subsection 445.1(4) makes it an offence to:

  • Promote, arrange, conduct, assist in, receive money for, or take part in any meeting, competition, exhibition, pastime, practice, display or event in the course of which captive cetaceans are used; unless the performance is authorized under a licence issued by the Lieutenant Governor in Council of a province or by an authority in the province as may be specified by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.

Penalties include:

  • Everyone who commits an offence under subsection (2) or (4) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to a fine not exceeding $200,000.

Provincial law

Some provinces regulate the types of wildlife that can be kept in captivity, such as prohibiting exotic animals to be held in captivity. Others also explicitly prohibit the training and use of these animals in entertainment settings.

Ontario Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS)

Sections 18-19 of the PAWS Act attempts to address animal welfare in entertainment by banning the breeding of prohibited animals, including orcas. Prohibited animals are not to be bred or possessed if they

  • pose an undue risk to human safety, and
  • cannot be humanely kept in captivity.

Orcas are strictly prohibited from breeding activities and possession with very little exceptions.  This is partly to prevent their capture for entertainment purposes.


Penalties for contravening sections 18 and 19 of PAWS include:

  • For individuals, on a first offence, a fine of up to $130,000, a term of up to 2 years of imprisonment, or both. For subsequent offences, a fine of up to $260,000, a term of up to 2 years of imprisonment, or both.
  • For corporations, on a first offence, a fine of up to $500,000. For subsequent offences, a fine of up to $1,000,000.
  • A prohibition order from the court prohibiting convicted parties from owning, or living with an animal for a specified period of time.
  • A restitution order from the court providing that convicted parties must pay the cost of food, care, or treatment of the animal that was the victim of the offence.

Standards of Care and Administrative Requirements

Section 13 of the PAWS Act provides that every person who owns or has custody or care of an animal shall comply with the standards of care and administrative requirements with respect to every animal owned or within their custody or care. The PAWS Regulations provide the standards of care for wildlife held in captivity and dictate that wildlife in captivity must be:

  • Provided with adequate and appropriate care, facilities and services to ensure their safety and general welfare;
  • Provided with a daily routine that stimulates natural movement and behavior; and
  • Kept in compatible social groups to ensure the general welfare of individual animals and to prevent risk of injury and undue stress.

Penalties for contravening section 13 include:

  • For individuals, on a first offence, a fine of up to $75,000, a term of up to 6 months of imprisonment, or both. For a second or subsequent offence, a fine of up to $100,000, a term of up to 1 year of imprisonment, or both.
  • For corporations, on a first offence, a fine of up to $100,000. For a second or subsequent offence, a fine of up to $250,000.


Section 6 of the PAWS Regulations lists the standards for enclosures which house wildlife in captivity. These standards include that a pen or enclosed structure or area for wildlife kept in captivity must:

  • Be of an adequate or appropriate size to facilitate natural movement and behavior, to ensure natural growth, etc.
  • Have features and furnishings that provide shelter, provide areas out of the view of spectators, and provide sleeping areas for all animals at all times.
  • Be made of materials that are safe and non-toxic, and that will not bruise, cut or injure the animals.
  • Be designed, secured, or locked to prevent interactions with people which would be unsafe or inappropriate for the wildlife, to prevent animals from escaping, and to prevent animals or other people from entering.


Section 7 of the Regulations provides the standards for primates kept in captivity. These standards include that a primate in captivity must be provided with:

  • Daily interaction with the person who has custody or care of the primate;
  • A varied range of daily activities; and
  • Interactive furnishings, such as perches, swings, and mirrors.

Marine animals

Part III of the Regulations lists extensive standards of care for marine mammals that are held in captivity. Examples of the standards include:

  • The establishment of an animal welfare committee for the purpose of developing an animal welfare plan for the marine animal.
  • Every marine mammal must be provided with a sufficient range of food that meets nutritional needs.
  • Every marine mammal must have a preventative health care program designed by a marine mammal veterinarian.
  • Every marine mammal must be provided with daily training, social enrichment and play sessions.
  • Every marine mammal held in an enclosure must be provided with a reliable water supply that is sufficient for the marine mammal’s health.

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act

Section 40 of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act requires a person who seeks to keep live game wildlife or live protected wildlife to obtain a license and act in accordance with the regulations. Under the Act, “Game wildlife” includes furbearing mammals, game amphibians, birds, mammals or reptiles. “Specially protected wildlife” refers to specially protected mammals, raptors, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.


Regulations under the Act specify the requirements for persons who own and operate a zoo. Section 1 defines a “zoo” to be a place where game wildlife or specially protected wildlife are kept in captivity for display to the public or other purposes. Under these requirements, individual operating a zoo:

  • may only purchase game wildlife or specially protected wildlife from those who may lawfully sell them, and/or sell game wildlife or specially protected wildlife only to those who may lawfully purchase them.
  • must keep a log book containing information regarding the purchase, sale, acquisition, disposition, birth, and death of game wildlife and specially protected wildlife in the zoo.


Penalties for contravening any provision of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act include:

  • A fine of up to $25,000, a term of 1 year of imprisonment, or both.
  • Where the offence was committed for commercial purposes, a fine of up to $100,00, a term of 2 years of imprisonment, or both.

Municipal law

Some municipalities also have bylaws and regulations regarding the use of animals in entertainment.

For example, the City of Toronto has enacted the by-law “Regulations respecting the Toronto Zoo”. Under paragraph 1(a), “zoo” is defined to mean the “Toronto Zoo, including all those lands east and west of Meadowvale Road in the City of Scarborough occupied by the existing zoological park and related facilities.”

The by-law details the responsibilities of visitors who attend the Toronto Zoo, including their treatment of the animals at the Zoo. The Regulation dictates that no person shall:

  • Feed or attempt to feed the animals or birds except when feeding is authorized under the circumstances.
  • Dispose or attempt to dispose any material into an area of the Zoo where animals or birds are typically kept.
  • Touch, tease, harass, molest, injure, threaten or intentionally startle, frighten or enrage or otherwise harm any animal or bird, or attempt so to do.
  • Enter any area in the Zoo where animals or birds are typically kept.
  • Let loose any caged, penned or housed animal or bird, or open any door, gate or other opening not intended for use by Zoo visitors.

If found guilty of the offences listed above, subsection 17(1) provides that a fine between the range of $30 to $2,000 may be ordered against the offender.

The City of Toronto also bans the use of prohibited animals to be used in mobile live shows, such as at special events, birthday parties, or visits to schools. A list of “prohibited animals” can be found under the City of Toronto’s Animals By-Law. Examples of prohibited animals are:

  • Cattle, goats, sheep, pigs – and other Artiodactyla
  • Tigers, leopards, cougars – and other Felidae except domestic cats
  • Hyenas – and other Hyaenidae
  • Elephants – and other Proboscidae
  • Bears – and other Ursidae

The fine for keeping a prohibited animal is $240.

More info

For more information on provincial and federal laws regarding animal care, view other sections of Animal Law, or contact your provincial or municipal government.

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