News / Vancouver

B.C. Supreme Court rules cetacean ban does not apply to Vancouver Aquarium

Aquarium has said it wants to temporarily house injured cetaceans before sending them to permanent homes in other facilities

Senior marine mammal trainer Lenora Marquez works with Helen, a Pacific white-sided dolphin, on Jan. 17, 2018.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro

Senior marine mammal trainer Lenora Marquez works with Helen, a Pacific white-sided dolphin, on Jan. 17, 2018.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled the Vancouver Park Board’s cetacean ban does not apply to the Vancouver Aquarium, but the aquarium has made no sign it will reverse its recent decision to not keep whales or dolphins anymore.

The courts decided that the park board’s 30-year licensing contract with the aquarium, signed in 1999, meant that the relatively new cetacean ban, enacted in May 2017, would not apply until the contract was up.

But it appears public opinion has already made a new reality clear to the Vancouver Aquarium.

The aquarium announced it was ending its captive cetacean program in January 2018, while the courts were still deliberating the aquarium's legal challenge against the park board's ban.

Vancouver Aquarium CEO and President John Nightingale said at the time the public debate about cetacean captivity was a “distraction” that prevented the non-profit from pursuing its goal of educating the public about the world’s oceans.

On Friday, the B.C. Supreme Court made its decision, siding with the Vancouver Aquarium. But it specifically did not rule on the aquarium’s submission that holding cetaceans captive constituted a freedom of expression. Animal welfare activists celebrated that distinction.

“The Aquarium made the disturbing claim that it has a constitutional right to keep sensitive, intelligent marine mammals in tiny tanks, a practice Canadians no longer find acceptable,” Animal Justice said in a press release.

“The Aquarium's freedom of expression claim could have permanently undermined animal protection laws right across Canada. We are pleased that the Court did not grant this right, and that other governments remain free to pass laws protecting animals.”

Animal Justice was one of two intervenors in the cetacean-ban court case.

The park board also responded to the decision, saying it was “obviously disappointed” but that it would not comment further on the court case until it reviewed its options going forward.

And while the aquarium has said it will no longer give cetaceans a permanent home in Vancouver, Nightingale told Metro in January that the non-profit plans to use its Stanley Park facility to temporarily house injured cetaceans before sending them to another aquarium that does keep cetaceans. The park board’s cetacean ban previously banned this practice. The recent supreme-court decision means the aquarium is now free to pursue this plan.

A Vancouver Aquarium spokesperson told Metro Thursday it has not yet made a decision about whether it will send Helen, the last remaining cetacean at Stanley Park, to another facility or if it will keep her.

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