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B.C. Supreme Court strikes down park board cetacean ban at Vancouver Aquarium

A B.C. Supreme Court judge Friday morning struck down the park board’s by-law banning the importation and keeping of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium.
A recent Angus Reid poll found that more than half of Canadians agree that cetaceans should not be kept in captivity. Photo Dan Toulgoet

A B.C. Supreme Court judge Friday morning struck down the park board’s by-law banning the importation and keeping of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Last spring Vancouver Park Board voted to ban the importation of new cetaceans to city parks as well as prohibiting performances. In June, the aquarium launched legal proceedings in an effort to overturn the ban arguing that the park board does not have the statutory power to enact the bylaw amendment, that the language of the bylaw is unacceptably vague and the ban would make the remaining phases of the aquarium’s approved $100-million revitalization and expansion project obsolete.

“We appreciate the timely judgment from the Honourable Mr. Justice Mayer on our petition against the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation and the City of Vancouver,” the aquarium said in an emailed statement. “We are pleased with the decision and that our position has been sustained by the BC Supreme Court.”

Following the park board’s decision, the aquarium maintained the ban would have an adverse effect on the operation, including the loss of a long-term home for rescued, non-releasable cetaceans, as well as a loss of funds to operate the marine mammal rescue program.

“The matters raised in our petition are of great significance to the operations of our not-for-profit marine science centre, the Vancouver Aquarium,” the aquarium’s statement reads. “We will need to take the time necessary to review the judgment with our legal counsel and consider the implications it may have on our organization before determining our future course of action or making any further public statements about these matters.”

Vancouver Park Board also issued a brief statement on the ruling.

“The Park Board is obviously disappointed with the conclusion the court reached in this matter,” the statement reads. “The Board will be reviewing the reasons for judgement and considering its options going forward. The Board will have no further comment on this matter until after the Commissioners have an opportunity to meet, review the decision with legal counsel and determine next steps.”

Last month, John Nightingale, president and CEO, announced that the aquarium would no longer display 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,” he said.

Helen, a Pacific white-sided dolphin, is the only cetacean left living at the aquarium. Chester, a false killer whale that had been at the facility since being rescued in 2014, died in November.

“Today’s announcement marks a shift for the Aquarium, but it’s a move that is in line with our commitment to our community, country and the world’s oceans,” Nightingale said.

The park board applauded the decision.

"We are pleased that the Aquarium, with this decision, has acknowledged and recognized what we as Commissioners observed in passionate public debates in this issue over the last years," board chair Stuart Mackinnon said in a press release.

"The public told us they believed the continuing importation and display of these intelligent and sociable mammals was unethical and incompatible with evolving public opinion and we amended our by-laws accordingly," Mackinnon said.