Toronto response to court dictates future of local shark-fin bans

Any ban on shark-fin soup in three of the Lower Mainland's four largest cities appears to be on hold pending Toronto's response to a recent court decision overturning its bylaw.

"We all thought it would be best to be prudent to wait and see what Toronto does next," Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang told the Straight by phone. "They will likely set the trend for how it will actually roll out in cities with restaurants that serve shark-fin soup."

Vancouver has passed a motion instructing staff to look at options for creating a ban. Richmond has held off dealing with this issue while the Toronto bylaw is in limbo.

Earlier this week, Burnaby city council passed a resolution to monitor the Toronto situation. Its ban was struck down last year in Ontario Superior Court for overstepping municipal authority.

"I think everyone agrees that the practices of shark finning are inhumane and reprehensible," Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan said at the meeting.

However, a staff report to Burnaby council indicated that the city would have no legal authority to seize samples, which would undermine effective enforcement.

"It's unwise for us to be spending public money to litigate something where we feel the chances of success are not good," Corrigan added. "I think staff are taking a conservative approach, but that doesn't detract from the fact that around the table, people believe this practice has to stop." 

Jang said part of the problem is that shark-fin soup is packaged as gelatinous material, making it difficult to identify without testing. But he noted that there is nothing stopping municipalities from seeking amendments to provincial legislation to expand their powers.

"The problem with Toronto is they went really too far—consumption and possession—while we were looking at sale and trade," Jang said. "As I understand it from our legal department, Vancouver, under our charter, has some powers to limit the trade and sale, whereas that might not be the case in Richmond and Burnaby."

This week, the Toronto Star reported that the two councillors who advanced the sweeping ban—Glenn De Baeremaeker and Kristyn Wong-Tam—now say the city should draft a narrower bylaw.

According to the Burnaby staff report, up to 73 million sharks are finned each year around the world. It mentioned that five restaurants and five herbal stores in Burnaby sell shark fin.

"This represents less than 1% of both restaurants and retail stores in Burnaby," the staff report stated.

The federal government prohibited shark finning in Canadian waters in 1994. New Westminster–Coquitlam–Port Moody MP Fin Donnelly introduce a private member's bill in Parliament in 2011 to ban the importation of shark fin.

"This is not something that we should be supporting," Burnaby councillor Sav Dhaliwal said at the February 18 meeting, highlighting that a "vast majority of Canadians" support a ban.

Corrigan pointed out that municipalities are creatures of provincial statute, and don't have constitutionally recognized authority. "I wish we had more power," he said.

Meanwhile, Jang said that reports from Hong Kong have revealed high levels of mercury in shark fin. Mercury poisoning can harm vision, speech, hearing, and coordination.

Jang maintained that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is not checking imported shark fin for this toxin.

"So you want to give grandma or somebody a nice big bowl of soup to say how wonderful they are, but the irony is you could be poisoning them," he said.

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