Park board appeals judge's decision on cetacean-captivity dispute with Vancouver Aquarium

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      The Vancouver Aquarium has pledged to phase out whale and dolphin displays, but that hasn’t ended a legal battle on the matter that it’s engaged in with the city’s park board.

      Today (March 2), the park board said it will appeal a February 9 B.C. Supreme Court decision that said the park board lacked authority to forbid the aquarium from keeping cetaceans in tanks in Stanley Park.

      “The Court held that the contract between the board and the aquarium restricted the board's authority to pass a by-law that applied to the aquarium's operations in Stanley Park,” reads a March 2 park board media release. “This holding could have far-ranging impacts on the park board's legislative powers, which are granted to it under the Vancouver Charter.”

      Park board chair Stuart Mackinnon is quoted there explaining that he and his fellow commissioners will continue to pursue the matter because they understand it to have implications beyond the issue of the Vancouver Aquarium.

      "We believe that the B.C. Supreme Court ruling of February 9th poses a real and substantial challenge to the legal power and authority of our elected Board," Mackinnon said. "Our board has decided we must appeal this decision."

      The legal battle began in May 2017, when the Vancouver park board voted to phase out cetacean captivity at the aquarium, which is located on land controlled by the board. Park commissioners passed a bylaw amendment that forbade the aquarium from adding new cetaceans to its programs. Shortly after, the aquarium said it was filing for a judicial review of the park board’s decision.

      On February 9, 2018, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in the aquarium’s favour. He did not make a decision on the question of marine-mammal captivity. Instead, Justice Andrew Mayer wrote that the agreement that exists between the park board and the Vancouver Aquarium states that the former will not interfere in the day-to-day activities of the later.

      Separate from that legal process, on January 18, 2018, aquarium CEO John Nightingale announced the organization was phasing out whale and dolphin displays on its own.

      "We have made the difficult decision to no longer display cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium,” he wrote on the organization’s website.

      "The ongoing discussions about whales and dolphins in our care have been a distraction from real threats to the ocean and have sidelined the critical work we lead," Nightingale continued there. "We aim to inspire people in every corner of the planet to participate in creating healthy oceans, and it’s time to get on with it."

      Today’s park board media release states that the civic body continues to support other programs the aquarium operates at its facility in Stanley Park.