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Filmmaker challenges court injunction on Vancouver Aquarium documentary

BC Civil Liberties says the injunction could endanger free speech

Aurora the beluga lived at the Vancouver Aquarium until it died in 2016.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Aurora the beluga lived at the Vancouver Aquarium until it died in 2016.

A civil liberties association says a B.C. court injunction preventing a filmmaker from showing his critical documentary on the Vancouver Aquarium’s whale captivity program could endanger democratic values.

The B.C. Supreme Court ordered filmmaker Gary Charbonneau to remove about five minutes of footage from his hour-long documentary in March 2016 after the aquarium claimed he broke copyright laws. That civil suit has yet to be heard in court.

Charbonneau asked a B.C. Court of Appeal judge to reconsider the injunction Monday.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association was there to present its arguments as well. 

“We are really concerned about the expression-of-freedom interest for the public at large that are implicated by those injunctive orders,” said Jay Aubrey, a lawyer with BCCLA. She spoke with Metro in a phone interview after the morning session.

“We didn’t see that covered here which is why we intervened to draw the court’s attention to the value of rigorous public debate.” 

More about the cetacean ban:

Aubrey says it is important to keep in mind the copyright allegations have not been tested in court – the injunction was a pre-trial order. 

“There’s just an allegation that there has been copyright infringement. Is an allegation enough to overcome the freedom of expression served by that documentary?”

The hearing comes 11 days after the Vancouver Park Board voted to ban the practice of keeping cetaceans in captivity at the aquarium.

The BCCLA is not taking a position on the controversy around cetacean captivity, but Aubrey says the recent park board decision highlights public interest in the matter.

The Vancouver Aquarium says it will not comment on the court case at this time.

The legal battle started in February 2016 when the Vancouver Aquarium filed a civil lawsuit against Charbonneau, alleging copyright infringement in his documentary called Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered. The documentary included footage recorded by Charbonneau and other visitors to the aquarium.

The documentary alleges that belugas kept in captivity have a much higher infant death rate than those in the wild and that the aquarium is buying dolphins from Japan under the pretence of a rescue and rehabilitation program.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

The aquarium has published a lengthy blog post disputing many of the film's allegations and accusing Charbonneau of deliberately creating an inaccurate and misleading movie.

The January 2016 post said that over a 39-year period, four beluga calves have died at the aquarium due to unrelated and unpreventable causes. The two dolphins that arrived at the facility in 2005 from Japan were rescued as badly injured animals caught in fixed fishing nets, it added.

The Vancouver Aquarium’s two remaining onsite belugas, Aurora and Qila, died within two weeks of each other in November 2016.

With files from The Canadian Press

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