The water-skiing squirrel entertaining crowds this week at the Vancouver International Boat Show is doing so in direct contravention of a long-standing municipal bylaw.
Twiggy, an Eastern grey squirrel as well as an apparent advocate of water safety, made her first appearance at Western Canada’s largest consumer boating event on Wednesday. She will be a daily attraction and the unofficial mascot of the B.C. Place exhibition, even though her act has been prohibited in Vancouver for more than 40 years.
Business prohibition bylaw no. 5156, enacted by council on April 11, 1978, explicitly prohibits any business from using “rodentia” and several other exotic animals, including anteaters and all other insectivores but african pygmy hedgehogs, “in a competition, exhibition, performance, event, or other situation.”
Exceptions are made for several rodents: it is perfectly acceptable to force domestic hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, mice, degus, and gerbils to water-ski for the amusement of Vancouver boat aficionados.
But the Eastern grey squirrel (Order: Rodentia) is not on that list, which means Twiggy’s performance has been illegal in Vancouver since one year before her 1979 Florida debut. (There have been several Twiggies.)
It makes some sense. If you could force Eastern grey squirrels to water-ski for your amusement, Stanley Park would be overrun with enterprising squirrel catchers. Instead, it is overrun with squirrels. Furthermore, if squirrels really wanted to go water-skiing, one wouldn’t have to teach them.
Twiggy is a presentation of Twiggy Inc., and the Vancouver International Boat Show is owned by the Boating BC Association and produced by Canadian Boat Shows Inc. These entities appear to be risking serious fines by continuing to present the water-skiing squirrel in Vancouver.
According to the bylaw, each one of Twiggy’s performances is punishable on conviction by a fine ranging from $500 to $10,000, and that’s to say nothing of the fine for a continuing offence because Twiggy is scheduled to perform at least twice a day through Friday, and seven more times over the weekend.
Spokesperson Laura Ballance said Thursday that the Vancouver International Boat Show has complied with and obtained all federal licensing requirements related to Twiggy, including veterinary oversight, and stressed that Twiggy, a rescue squirrel, offers an educational seminar about water safety.
“The presentation has been very well-received by the children who it is designed to educate about water and life jacket safety as well as their parents, and we have had nothing but positive feedback,” said Ballance. “One of the core goals of the show, which provides a crucial showcase for the hundreds of small, largely family-owned businesses across our province, is to educate our guests about water safety.”
Vancouver officials have already been made aware of this bylaw infraction and will be launching an investigation, according to a report Friday in The Globe & Mail, which also found that municipal regulations in Toronto prohibit keeping an Eastern grey squirrel in captivity at all. Twiggy is thus no longer welcome in Toronto, unless she comes alone.
In 1994, the Vancouver bylaw was used to block exotic dancer Jane Jones from performing with her 440-pound Siberian tiger, though Jones did manage to get around a similar bylaw in New Westminster by rebranding as a naked magician.
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