Ac­tivists square off with aquar­ium in court over by­law ban­ning cetaceans

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - KEITH FRASER

A lawyer for two an­i­mal-ad­vo­cacy groups ap­peared in court Thurs­day to op­pose the Van­cou­ver Aquar­ium’s bid to quash a by­law ban­ning cetaceans.

Ar­den Bed­does, who is rep­re­sent­ing the groups An­i­mal Jus­tice Canada and Zoocheck, made brief sub­mis­sions be­fore B.C. Supreme Court Jus­tice An­drew Mayer on the aquar­ium’s ar­gu­ment that the Van­cou­ver park board’s by­law amend­ment vi­o­lated the aquar­ium’s free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

The two groups were granted in­ter­vener sta­tus in the court case af­ter the aquar­ium filed a pe­ti­tion seek­ing to over­turn the by­law, which was passed at a meet­ing of the board in May.

The aquar­ium, which claims the by­law will have sig­nif­i­cant ad­verse im­pacts, is mak­ing a num­ber of ar­gu­ments in­clud­ing that the amend­ment breaches its char­ter right to free ex­pres­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments filed in court, the aquar­ium is ar­gu­ing that through its cetacean pro­gram, the aquar­ium ex­presses one view­point in a many-sided pub­lic and now po­lit­i­cal de­bate about the ethics of im­port­ing and keep­ing whales, dol­phins and por­poises.

Bed­does says that that po­si­tion amounts to an un­rea­son­able ar­gu­ment that in or­der to merely par­tic­i­pate in the de­bate, the aquar­ium needs to keep cetaceans in cap­tiv­ity.

Tim Dick­son, a lawyer for the parks board and the City of Van­cou­ver, made a sim­i­lar ar­gu­ment ear­lier in front of the judge.

Out­side court, Bed­does said that the parks board is fo­cus­ing on the by­law while his clients are also look­ing at the im­pact a rul­ing that the aquar­ium’s rights were vi­o­lated would have on an­i­mal pro­tec­tion is­sues across Canada.

“It would mean that all of their ac­tiv­i­ties would be ren­dered moot,” he said.

An­i­mal Jus­tice Canada and Zoocheck are na­tional an­i­mal­ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions claim­ing mem­ber­ship in the tens of thou­sands of Cana­di­ans.

The deaths of two bel­uga whales at the aquar­ium in Novem­ber 2016 reignited a long-run­ning de­bate about the ethics of keep­ing cetaceans in the aquar­ium in Van­cou­ver’s Stan­ley Park. At a meet­ing of the parks board in May, com­mis­sion­ers voted 6-1 in favour of the amend­ment, which pro­hib­ited any­one from bring­ing in and keep­ing cetaceans in the park and also banned shows, per­for­mances or other forms of en­ter­tain­ment in­volv­ing one or more cetaceans.

In ad­di­tion to the char­ter ar­gu­ment, the aquar­ium is claim­ing in its pe­ti­tion that the by­law is “ul­tra vires,” or out­side the law, be­cause it vi­o­lates a li­cens­ing agree­ment with the board, and that the aquar­ium was de­nied pro­ce­dural fair­ness in the process un­der­taken by the board.

The aquar­ium, which is also claim­ing that the by­law is un­ac­cept­ably vague, says the im­pacts of the bans in­clude that there will no longer be a long-term home for res­cued, non-re­leasable cetaceans in B.C.

They also claim that there will be a loss of funds to op­er­ate a marine mam­mal res­cue pro­gram and that the lone re­main­ing cetacean in the aquar­ium will be jeop­ar­dized due to a lack of com­pan­ion­ship.


The Van­cou­ver park board voted in May to ban the keep­ing of cetaceans at the Van­cou­ver Aquar­ium in Stan­ley Park.


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