Vancouver Aquarium launches legal challenge to overturn park board ban of cetaceans in captivity

Vancouver Aquarium launches lawsuit against Park Board
The Vancouver Aquarium announced it's taking legal action against the Vancouver Park Board.

The Vancouver Aquarium has started legal proceedings in B.C. Supreme Court to overturn the Vancouver Park Board bylaw amendment banning cetaceans from the aquarium’s marine science centre in Stanley Park.

The aquarium names the park board and the City of Vancouver as respondents and is looking for a ruling from the B.C. Supreme Court that the board’s decision is invalid.

On May 15, the board voted in favour of a bylaw amendment that banned the aquarium from keeping sea mammals such as dolphins and porpoises in captivity.

WATCH: Vancouver Aquarium launches lawsuit against park board

Vancouver Aquarium launches lawsuit against Park Board
Vancouver Aquarium launches lawsuit against Park Board

The board voted six to one in favour of the amendment.

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The bylaw prevents the Vancouver Aquarium from bringing new cetaceans to its facility in Stanley Park, but three cetaceans currently housed there will be allowed to stay.

The Vancouver Aquarium started legal proceedings in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday, noting, among other concerns:

  • the park board does not have the statutory power to enact the bylaw amendment;
  • the park board commissioners refused to hear representations from the Vancouver Aquarium concerning the bylaw amendment, having made up their minds well before May 15;
  • the language of the park board’s bylaw amendment is unacceptably vague; and
  • the bylaw amendment renders the remaining phases of the Vancouver Aquarium’s approved $100-million revitalization and expansion project obsolete. ($45 million of public and private funding has already been invested to date.)

“The ramifications and impacts of the Park Board bylaw amendment are so far reaching that they fundamentally change the Vancouver Aquarium’s ability to deliver its mission of conserving the world’s oceans. As a result, we have no choice but to defend ourselves,” said John Nightingale, president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium, in a release.

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The Vancouver Aquarium has said the new bylaw would amount to a death sentence for whales, dolphins and porpoises in need of rescue. The aquarium is concerned the Department of Fisheries and Oceans may not rescue injured cetaceans if there is no place for them to go.

Park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon said in May the move simply means the cetaceans cannot be brought to the facility in Stanley Park, but the aquarium can still treat the animals at its rescue centre, which is not located on park board property.

However, the Vancouver Aquarium states other adverse impacts to the park board’s decision include:

  • The loss of funds to operate the Vancouver Aquarium’s marine mammal rescue program, which rescues more than 100 marine mammals along B.C.’s coastlines each year.
  • The loss of critical expertise related to cetacean stranding response and veterinary care.
  • Severe impacts to the Vancouver Aquarium’s ability to advance scientific knowledge for the rescue, rehabilitation and conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the wild.
  • Harm arising to the Vancouver Aquarium’s staff from the risk of quasi-criminal sanctions.

“We cannot stand by and allow the Park Board to threaten the health and welfare of cetaceans, or develop bylaws on the fly that undermine our animal protection, conservation, research and education mandates,” said Nightingale in the release. “We deeply appreciate the overwhelming support we have received in recent weeks from the people of Vancouver and British Columbia. We will continue to fight the bylaw amendment so we can continue to provide the programs that benefit vulnerable cetaceans, our oceans, and the broader community.”

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This matter is now before the courts.

More to come.