Vancouver Aquarium Launches Legal Challenge to Park Board Bylaw Amendment

Vancouver, B.C. – The Vancouver Aquarium commenced legal proceedings in the B.C. Supreme Court yesterday to overturn a Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation bylaw amendment that bans cetaceans from the Vancouver Aquarium’s marine science centre in Stanley Park in the future.

The Vancouver Aquarium’s application for judicial review names the Park Board and the City of Vancouver as respondents, and seeks a ruling from the B.C. Supreme Court that the Park Board’s bylaw amendment, enacted on May 15, 2017, is invalid and of no force and effect.

The Vancouver Aquarium’s legal petition notes that, 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, Vancouver Aquarium.

The legal petition details numerous adverse impacts from the Park Board’s bylaw amendment on the Vancouver Aquarium’s mandate of conservation and operations, including the loss of a long-term home for rescued, non-releasable cetaceans. The Vancouver Aquarium’s rescue program is the only one of its kind in Canada with the facilities, accreditation and expertise to provide ongoing care for sick and stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises that Fisheries and Oceans Canada deems to be unfit for release following rescue and rehabilitation.

Other adverse impacts of the Park Board’s bylaw amendment 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,” added Nightingale. “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.”

This matter is now before the courts. On the advice of legal counsel, Randall Hordo QC and Caitlin Ohama-Darcus of Nathanson, Schachter & Thompson LLP, the Vancouver Aquarium will refrain from providing any further comments on the matter at this time.

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Deana Lancaster
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