Activists have reacted angrily to what they describe as Vision Vancouver politicians handing over the issue of a breeding ban at the Vancouver Aquarium to the rival Non-Partisan Association.
“How can we trust this political party again?” Annelise Sorg, president of No Whales in Captivity, asked during a phone interview with the Georgia Straight. “Vision just jumped on the whale wagon and now is hopping off, now that it’s realized that this did not go well for them in the election. It’s just not fair. This should lose them a lot of credibility.”
A November 17 city staff report includes the draft text of a bylaw amendment that commissioners requested in July. The proposed rules forbid the breeding of whales, dolphins, and porpoises on park-board properties, which include the aquarium’s home in Stanley Park. The document also details terms of reference for the implementation of a “Vancouver Aquarium oversight committee”.
Commissioners could vote on the amendments when they convene on November 24. However, outgoing Vision park-board chair Aaron Jasper told the Straight that this is not likely to happen.
“My advice, at this point, is we do not pass this bylaw,” he said in a telephone interview. “My advice to the board is that this bylaw should be referred to public consultation and then dealt with by the next board.”
The next park board will be sworn in on December 1. Incoming commissioners elected on November 15 will shift the balance of power on the civic body, transforming it from one dominated by Vision to one controlled by the NPA.
Jasper acknowledged that the NPA has vowed to repeal any breeding ban passed by Vision and said that is not what he wants. But he emphasized that the staff report recommends a vote on the aquarium wait for “further public consultation”. Jasper said he intends to follow that suggestion.
“If the election results had been different, then I think it would have been less of an issue for us to pass this bylaw,” he explained.
Jasper, however, noted that there is still a chance the matter could get to a vote on November 24.
“Procedurally, a commissioner could move that we just go and approve the bylaws,” he said. “This is a staff recommendation. The board has the authority to say, ‘Thank you very much; we agree with your recommendation,’ or ‘No, we do not.’ ”
Two outgoing Vision commissioners who pushed hard for the ban told the Straight they may take that course of action and go against their chair’s recommendation.
Sarah Blyth said she hasn’t ruled out bringing the amendments to a vote on November 24. “I’m considering all of my options right now,” she added.
The second commissioner, Constance Barnes, went further. “I am not changing my mind,” she said in a separate interview. “I am going to fight this. I am not in a position to change my mind. My gut tells me, ‘Don’t you dare.’ ”
Jeff Matthews, a volunteer with the Vancouver Animal Defense League, said he doesn’t understand why Vision would pass on its opportunity to enact its own bylaw amendments. “There were public consultations; they came to a balanced decision and most of the public is under the impression that the bylaw is already in place,” he argued. “Why back away now?”
In the run-up to the November 15 election, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision park commissioners publicly opposed whale and dolphin breeding at the aquarium. Meanwhile, NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe said that he “deplored” Robertson taking that position.
“I fully support the Vancouver Aquarium’s existing policies of conservation and research around cetaceans,” LaPointe said in a July news release.
On November 17, incumbent NPA park commissioner John Coupar confirmed that this remains the party’s position, telling the Straight that his team would work to repeal any bylaw that prohibits captive breeding.
For its part, the aquarium has remained at odds with the park board. In August, it announced it was mounting a legal challenge, requesting that the B.C. Supreme Court conduct a judicial review of the motion passed in July.
More recently, on November 13, the aquarium’s head veterinarian, Martin Haulena, told a lecture audience that aquarium staff anticipate that two Pacific harbour porpoises on display in Stanley Park could begin breeding in the near future.
Haulena was asked a question about aquarium research projects involving those animals. He responded: “Reproduction is so incredible.…That’s what we’re heading into with our two [harbour porpoises]. So reproduction, gestation, development—all of that stuff is so interesting in these animals.” Haulena added that staff are “banking on them getting along for the next few years”.
The aquarium declined to grant the Straight an interview related to those remarks. Instead, it sent a written statement emphasizing that the draft bylaw prohibiting breeding has not yet passed.
“Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre has no plans to violate any Park Board by law,” reads an email supplied by communications director Charlene Chiang.