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Vancouver Aquarium fights ban in court

By Sara Norman

A beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium. (FILE PHOTO)

A beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium. (FILE PHOTO)

The Vancouver Aquarium is heading to court over the Park Board’s bylaw revisions on keeping whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity.


The aquarium filed a legal challenge in B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday claiming the changes are beyond the Park Board’s jurisdiction and have no legitimate municipal purpose.

“The resolutions raise significant concerns given the risks and impractical nature of proposed changes to the park bylaw under which cetaceans can be acquired and kept in Vancouver’s parks,” says president and CEO Dr. John Nightingale.

He says the changes would put the aquarium’s oceanic research and rescue programs at risk.

The changes include a ban on breeding cetaceans on Park Board land and that the aquarium provide annual reports while responding to what commissioners call an oversight committee.

Civil litigator Peter Roberts says it’s legitimate for the aquarium to question whether the board has strayed beyond its scope.

“It also raises the question in the petition about whether or not they’re also in breach of the licence agreement they have with the aquarium about its ongoing management for the next 20-odd years,” he said.

Park Board chairman Aaron Jasper counters it could be two years before the challenge goes to court, and in the meantime bylaw changes will go ahead.

“It is business as usual with respect to our direction to staff on this issue,” he said. “We will prepare for court, whenever that day may come.”

Jasper adds the board is disappointed the aquarium took this action.

Non-Partisan Association Park Board Commissioner Melissa De Genova calls it an unfortunate situation with inadequate community consultation.

“I am very disappointed this is where we’ve ended up,” she said. “I immediately called staff [Wednesday] morning once I found out and I have asked for a briefing of all commissioners.”

De Genova lashed out at Vision Vancouver, saying this is not the first time a not-for-profit group or organization in the city has felt they need to take issues to court to be heard.

However, Jasper doesn’t feel De Genova has a right to criticize the process since she was out of the country at that time, and claims consultation has been fair and transparent. 

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