February 9, 2018 5:00 pm
Updated: February 9, 2018 8:19 pm

Vancouver Aquarium ruled exempt from cetacean ban after saying it would phase out whales and dolphins

WATCH: Vancouver Aquarium announces it will no longer display whales or dolphins

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The Vancouver Park Board’s bylaw banning the keeping of cetaceans in captivity is not enforceable because of a contract between the body and the Vancouver Aquarium, the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled.

However, the decision may have little effect; the aquarium announced in January that it will no longer house cetaceans, with the exception of emergency rescue animals and Helen, the Pacific white-sided dolphin.

READ MORE: Vancouver Aquarium will no longer house whales and dolphins

Helen is the last cetacean housed at the facility, though the aquarium owns several belugas on breeding loans in the U.S.

The Vancouver Aquarium said last month that the outcome of the court case would not change that decision, but it would see the challenge through as a matter of precedent.

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However in a statement released Friday, the aquarium appeared to leave the door open to changing that position.

“We are pleased with the decision and that our position has been sustained by the BC Supreme Court,” it said.

“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.”

The Vancouver Park Board also released a statement following the judgement, saying it was “disappointed,” and that it is reviewing its options and will have no further comment until Parks Commissioners meet next.

READ MORE: Chester the false killer whale dies at the Vancouver Aquarium

The court case was launched by Ocean Wise Conservation Association, the non-profit that runs the Vancouver Aquarium, after the Vancouver Park Board passed a bylaw outlawing captive cetaceans in any city park in May 2017.

In a 46-page decision released Friday, Justice Andrew Mayer did not dispute the board’s power to make bylaws that affect the aquarium.

WATCH: Vancouver Aquarium plans for future without whales or dolphins

Nonetheless, he ruled that the park board bylaw was not enforceable because it conflicted with the board’s 1999 license agreement with the aquarium.

That contract gave the facility the right to operate in Stanley Park and agreed that the board would not interfere in the aquarium’s day-to-day administration.

The term of the contract runs until 2029.

READ MORE: Court sides with filmmaker who took on Vancouver aquarium’s captivity practice

“The decision of the park board to enact the bylaw amendment, without excluding from its application the operations of the Vancouver Aquarium at the Marine Science Centre, either constitutes, or will result in, a breach of the use and non-interference provisions of the [agreement],” the ruling said.

But while the ruling won’t affect the future of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium, it will mean a financial hit for taxpayers, who will have to pay some of the aquarium’s legal costs, on top of the legal fees for the Victoria law firm the city hired to represent it in the case.

Global News is waiting for comment from the Vancouver Park Board.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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