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Air Canada can refuse to ship monkeys for research, agency rules

A person walks by Air Canada planes at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Friday, April 13, 2012.

Michelle Siu/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Air Canada has been given the go-ahead to stop flying primates of the non-human variety.

The Canadian Transportation Agency ruled on Thursday that Canada's largest airline can refuse the shipping of monkeys for laboratory research purposes.

The petition to the agency was made last year "to align our policies with those of many other major international carriers and in response to widespread public concern," said Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick. It followed a similar request from 1996 that was refused.

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Air Canada had been urged by animal rights groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to stop the shipment of monkeys since last year with a letter campaign. PETA champions the ban of all animals for live experimentation;

"I'm thrilled that the government is allowing our flagship airline to take a stand against cruel experiments on animals," said Pamela Anderson, one of the group's celebrity members, in an e-mail.

But the Public Health Agency of Canada and Queen's University complain that Air Canada's request is "unreasonable and unjustly discriminatory." They argue that the ruling will have a negative impact on public health and advances in medical research. Monkeys are used to test the safety of vaccines and are critical for rapid responses to infectious diseases such as the SARS outbreak in Toronto in 2003.

In its news release, however, the Canadian Transportation Agency said that the airline's request "constitutes a rational business decision" and is not discriminatory.

United/Continental is now the only major North American airline that continues to accept shipments of monkeys.

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