Vancouver Park Board cetacean ban heading back to Supreme Court

Vancouver Courier

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Vancouver Park Board’s bylaw banning the importation and keeping of cetaceans does apply to Vancouver Aquarium.

The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the park board Tuesday, saying the judge erred in his decision that the park board does not have the power to enact the bylaw amendment as it conflicts with the licence agreement with Ocean Wise Conservation Association, which operates the aquarium. The decision overturns the previous Supreme Court decision in favour of the aquarium.

Vancouver Park Board’s bylaw banning the importation and keeping of cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium is heading back to Supreme Court. Photo Dan Toulgoet

“The Park Board is pleased by today’s decision,” park board chair Stuart Mackinnon said in a press release. “The amendment to our bylaw is thoughtful and reflective of public opinon. The Court’s decision upholds our legislative powers to regulate activities and operations within our parks.”

In May 2017, park board commissioners voted to ban the importation of new cetaceans to city parks as well as prohibiting performances. A month later the aquarium launched legal proceedings in an effort to overturn the ban. The aquarium argued that the park board does not have the statutory power to enact the bylaw, that the language of the bylaw was too vague and the ban would make the remaining phases of the aquarium’s $100-million revitalization and expansion project obsolete.

Last February, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of the aquarium, striking down the bylaw. However, the park board launched an appeal in March 2018. At the time, board chair Stuart Mackinnon said the ruling posed “a real and substantial challenge to the legal power and authority of our elected Board.”

With the Court of Appeal this week ruling in favour of the park board, the case will now go back to Supreme Court for a determination on other issues raised in the aquarium’s lawsuit, including that park board commissioners had already made up their minds before the May 15, 2017 vote, the language of the bylaw is unacceptably vague and it renders the remaining phases of the aquarium’s $100-million expansion project obsolete.

In January 2018, the aquarium announced its decision to stop displaying cetaceans.

“Despite independent polling, year over year, that clearly shows overwhelming support for our cetacean program, we have made the difficult decision to no longer display cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium, with the exception of doing what is best for Helen and any need to use the Aquarium for the temporary accommodation of a rescued cetacean,” president and CEO John Nightingale, who announced his retirement last May, said in a statement.

Helen, a Pacific white-sided dolphin, is the only cetacean left living at the aquarium.