Vancouver Aquarium launches legal action to overturn park board bylaw amendment

Photo: Tourism Vancouver

The Vancouver Aquarium has launched a legal challenge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in an effort to overturn a recent Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation bylaw amendment that bans new cetaceans, including whales, dolphins and porpoises, from the aquarium’s marine science centre in Stanley Park.

According to the aquarium, the park board does not have the statutory power to enact the amendment. In its petition, the aquarium said park board commissioners “refused to hear representations from the Vancouver Aquarium concerning the bylaw amendment, having made up their minds well before May 15.” As well, the aquarium said the amendment wording was “unacceptably vague.”

“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,” said Vancouver Aquarium president and CEO John Nightingale. “As a result, we have no choice but to defend ourselves.”

The Vancouver Aquarium had previously received approval for a $100 million expansion and revitalization project, including $45 million of public and private funding that has already been invested. But the park board’s amendment renders all phases of the project, the aquarium said in the petition.

Nightingale said the park board’s decision threatens the health and welfare of cetaceans, as the aquarium’s rescue program is the only one in Canada that has the capacity and expertise to care for sick whales, dolphins and porpoises that are deemed unfit to release by Fisheries and Oceans Canada after rehabilitation. He said the aquarium won’t stand by while the park board develops “bylaws on the fly that undermine our animal protection, conservation, research and education mandates.”

The three cetaceans already at the aquarium – false killer whale Chester, harbour porpoise Daisy and Pacific white-sided dolphin Helen –  are permitted to remain on site under the bylaw amendment but are not permitted to be used in any performances or shows. Other animals such as seals are still permitted to be rescued and rehabilitated in the marine science centre.

The park board said mid-may, after the vote to amend the bylaw, that the decision was made after extensive public review.

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation told Business in Vancouver it will not be commenting as the matter is now before the courts.