Municipalities face legal obstacles over shark fin ban
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Some think it’s a fishy situation. Do municipalities, like Mississauga, Ont. whose ban on shark fin products goes into effect at the end of the month, have the right to outlaw a product that Canadian law allows?
“We do have that right,’’ says Mississauga Councillor Pat Mullin, a driving force behind the ban, acknowledging a staff report last year suggested the opposite.
Nevertheless, Mississauga council concluded it could ban the possession, sale and consumption of shark fin products by virtue of the “powers and authorities that are afforded to municipalities’’ under the Municipal Act, Mullin said.
The Mississauga bylaw imposes fines of not more than $15,000 for a first conviction and up to $30,000 for subsequent ones.
“You can be challenged on anything. It’s very simple. It’s the right thing to do,’’ said Mullin.
Certainly, other municipalities feel the same way about the use of shark fins which are highly prized in Asian dishes, like shark fin soup.
Brantford was the first Ontario municipality to outlaw shark fin products, in the spring of 2011. Toronto passed a similar bylaw which takes effect Sept. 1, and Pickering’s shark fin ban begins in November. London, Oakville and Newmarket have also approved the bans.
But the legality of the bylaws may soon be tested.
A Toronto group called the Fair and Responsible Governance Alliance has retained a law firm to launch a legal challenge to Toronto’s shark fin bylaw (which would affect other municipalities).
However, before the action is launched, the group has asked to meet with city councilors, staff and the mayor, said Ben Leung, co-chair of the non-profit group which includes people from the Chinese business community as well as members of other ethnic groups and backgrounds.
“We want them to sit with us and talk and investigate,’’ said Leung, who hopes for a meeting before the bylaw takes effect. No firm meeting has been set up yet, he said.
Canada’s Fisheries Act prohibits fishermen from engaging in finning, cutting the fins from sharks which are then thrown back into the ocean to die. Canada allows the import of shark fins (except from endangered species) and although it supports the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s ban on international finning, there is no way to know how imported shark fins are harvested.
The Fair and Responsible Governance Alliance agrees with the ban against finning. “That’s not acceptable,’’ said Leung, who hasn’t eaten shark fin soup in a long time. “But there’s no need to have a bylaw against something legally available in Canada.’’
Stephen Chu, past-president of the Mississauga Chinese Business Association, said his group had asked the municipality to hold off on enforcing its bylaw in light of the pending legal action.
“But they said they had to go ahead with it,’’ he said.
Chu said he isn’t sure why Mississauga is so concerned about the issue because the majority of shark fin products are consumed in Richmond Hill, Markham and Toronto. “In Mississauga, it’s less than 1,000 pounds or maybe even a few hundred pounds’’ annually, said Chu, who sat on a committee which consulted with councillors on the issue. “I told them you are wasting a whole lot of effort and time on these few hundred pounds.’’
Canada imports about 77,000 kilograms of shark fins annually, said Fin Donnelly, a British Columbia NDP member of Parliament who has introduced a private member’s bill to ban the import.
“Most of them are illegally caught,’’ he said, although “it’s impossible to verify. We’re losing sharks at an alarming rate.’’
According to National Geographic, 40 million sharks are killed annually by finning around the world. The ocean conservation group, Oceana, says 50 of the 307 shark species in the world are vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered but only three — the white, whale and basking sharks — are protected internationally.
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