Reptilia still intends to display exotic animals in London, says lawyer

reptilia vaughan crocodile
A Nile crocodile on display at Reptilia's Vaughan, Ont., location in September 2021. via @ReptiliaZoo/Facebook

A lawyer representing Reptilia says the reptile zoo still intends to exhibit exotic animals in London despite city council voting against a bylaw exemption earlier this week.

Michael Lerner of Lerners Law Firm says Reptilia intends to exhibit exotic animals at some point after it opens next month at Westmount Mall.

“Reptilia intends to exhibit exotic animals,” Lerner told Global News.

The plan to display exotic animals goes against London council. It voted against moving forward with two amendments to the animal control bylaw that would have, among other things, exempted Reptilia from restrictions on Class 7 animals allowed in the city.

The city’s animal control bylaw prohibits the ownership and display of animals “normally found in a wild and natural state.” Referred to as Class 7 animals under the bylaw, this includes, but is not limited to, crocodiles, alligators, venomous snakes and venomous lizards.

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Lerner cited the opinion of a second lawyer, Leo Longo, a lawyer representing McCor Management Inc., which manages Westmount Mall, for how Reptilia would be able to own and display exotic animals in London.

Longo previously spoken before the community and protective services (CAPS) committee that has dealt with the Reptilia file. Longo told the CAPS committee last November that in his legal opinion Reptilia is already exempt from the animal control bylaw “as it operates under a provincial licence.”

Section 3.6 of the bylaw, which Longo cited, states, “this bylaw shall not apply to animals maintained in a public park, zoo, fair, exhibition or circus operated or licensed by a municipal or other governmental authority.”

Lerner says the city disagreed with Longo’s opinion.

“As often occurs, lawyers don’t always agree, and the city solicitor disagreed with that opinion,” Lerner said.

Representatives from the city of London told Global News that since council has voted on the matter, they will not be making any further comment on the subject.

Lerner did not disclose if Reptilia plans to have exotic animals as soon as it opens its doors. Reptilia, which has operations currently in Whitby and Vaughan, did not respond to multiple inquiries from Global News.

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The saga of Reptilia coming to London has been ongoing since 2018 when they first approached city council for an exemption to the animal control bylaw. The council of the time voted against seeking bylaw drafts, quashing any discussion. However, Reptilia was approved for a business license by the city in early 2022, reopening the debate.

A newly elected council in late 2022 sought further information from staff after being approached again by Reptilia for an exemption. In late January, members of the CAPS committee moved forward the sought information and a draft bylaw amendment to appear before regular council Tuesday.

According to Lerner, the process for bringing Reptilia to London was initiated by two London organizations: Tourism London and the London Economic Development Corporation. Lerner said both groups first went to meet with representatives from the zoo in Vaughan before inviting them to tour London.

“They agreed upon the Westmount Mall given that its current state is not what it once was,” said Lerner.

Tourism London told Global News that nobody from its current management team, which joined the organization in 2019, has had any contact with Reptilia.

In a letter to council, Cheryl Finn, general manager for Tourism London, said, “as it is proposed to operate, Reptilia may not meet Tourism London’s mandated goals as per the industry standard definition of tourism and/or our governance.”

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The council vote on Tuesday was close with Reptilia’s bid for exemption failing 6-9. Because of the failed bid, the subject of Reptilia should be a decided matter of council for the next year unless 70 per cent of councillors vote to reopen the file, as per deputy mayor Shawn Lewis.

The deputy mayor acknowledged Wednesday that while the subject should be a closed matter, there may be a legal battle coming for the city.

“I think we are done at council. Now, is the issue done for the city? I suspect no,” said Lewis. “I suspect this may ultimately end up in a legal challenge before the courts.”

The six members of council who voted in favour of moving the amendments forward were Peter Cuddy, Susan Stevenson, Jerry Pribil, Corrine Rahman, Paul VanMeerbergen and Steven Hillier.

The nine who voted against were Lewis, Mayor Josh Morgan, Hadleigh McAlister, Sam Trosow, Steve Lehman, Anna Hopkins, Elizabeth Peloza, Skylar Franke and David Ferreira.

— With files from Global’s Andrew Graham

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