Activists square off with aquarium in court over bylaw banning cetaceans
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.