More than 6,000 people have signed an online petition asking the city to reopen a ban on the sale of shark fins in Toronto, an idea that was initially spearheaded by late Toronto filmmaker Rob Stewart.
The change.org petition was created in memory of Stewart, who died on Friday while on a diving excursion near Alligator Reef in the Florida Keys.
“When I first heard the news Friday that Rob Stewart had passed, I was upset,” said Kaley Fitzsimmons, the petition’s organizer. “He had been a big inspiration to me.”
Stewart is best-known for his award winning 2006 documentary Sharkwater, which garnered international attention.
He was in Florida shooting the documentary’s sequel, Sharkwater: Extinction, when he was tragically killed.
“He’s a person who was doing so much good in this world and it’s just heartbreaking when you find out that something like this happened to a truly good person.”
In October 2011, Toronto City Council voted on a bylaw that would see the banning of possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins.
The bylaw passed by an overwhelming vote of vote of 38 to 4, but was challenged by members of the Chinese business community. In 2012, the ban was declared invalid by an Ontario Superior Court judge.
Fitzsimmons said she wants to bring the debate back to city hall.
“I thought to re-open the discussion on a ban of shark fins in Toronto would be a good place to start to honour his work,” she said.
“From my understanding, the previous ban had banned the sale and consumption of shark fins but if it’s framed a bit differently, it might have a better chance to stand up in court.”
A statement from Mayor John Tory’s office said the court “struck down the ban” and ruled city council “did not have the authority to enact such a prohibition” because it was outside the jurisdiction of the city.
“Actions to deter the importing and sale of shark fins should be taken at the federal level,” the statement said.
“If the federal government does not restrict the importation of shark fins, the City has few tools to regulate its sale in our city.”
Fitzsimmons said the amount of support the petition has received is a testament to the work Stewart was doing.
“I wouldn’t have known about shark finning if it wasn’t for him and I’m sure many people who signed and supported the petition wouldn’t have known about shark finning, either,” she said.
“I think there is increased education, awareness. There is so much evidence to support this that it seems like something that should be a no brainer.”