In response to media reports that a grizzly bear nearly broke out of its pen at the Toronto Zoo earlier this week, the Ministry of Labour is inspecting working conditions at the zoo.

Samson, the zoo’s 1,000-pound male grizzly, ripped off the wooden palisades inside his caged enclosure Tuesday morning, exposing a two-foot hole in the ceiling, then pushing against a chain-link fence — his only barrier to freedom.

“Another hour and he would have been out,” Tony Meuleman, a senior zookeeper in the Canadian pavilion who has been with the zoo for 31 years, said on Wednesday.

Zoo management, however, denied there was ever a threat the bear would escape. Chief operating officer Robin Hale characterized Meuleman’s comments as “fear-mongering.”

A spokesperson for the provincial labour ministry said an inspector was sent Thursday afternoon to ensure the zoo workplace is safe.

At night, Samson and his female companion, Shintay, are kept in adjoining caged yards — each about three metres across and nine metres deep — that includes separate concrete sleeping enclosures.

Meuleman told the Star that zookeepers have expressed concerns about the “incredibly unsafe” enclosure but zoo management has been reluctant to make upgrades.

Hale, however, said when zoo officials were informed of the bear’s property rampage, they acted quickly to make repairs.

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