Opinion: Aquarium suit latest in park board legal morass

Amidst all the misery and mayhem in the news this summer, the local story that jumped out at me was the park board’s latest legal tussle over captive cetaceans — whales and dolphins — at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Try as I might, thumbing through the Vancouver Charter, there is nowhere that I could find language which gives the park board the authority to interfere with consensual sex between adult whales. But that is exactly what they have taken it upon themselves to do

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What they propose is cetacean celibacy. If you are thinking this sounds like a policy drawn from Trinity Western University in the Fraser Valley, you would only be partly right. There students are expected to refrain from any premarital sexual intimacy.

At the aquarium, Vision wants whales and dolphins pulled away from their natural family groups and penned in pools based on their gender.

But that presents another issue. It is one that Trinity Western deals with by prohibiting homosexual relations among its students, staff and faculty.

As for the aquarium, the proposal from the park board makes no reference to this aspect of sexual intimacy.

Yet one can only assume that cetaceans are like most mammals; they have amongst them those that exhibit gay tendencies while others may be considered lesbian or bisexual.

So you could say that the Vision park board commissioners who alone proposed this solution (the two NPA commissioners were not present for the vote) once again took care of the cetacean equivalent of the LGBTQ+ community. But those whales and dolphins held in captivity that are hopelessly heterosexual are the ones that are being punished.

Shocking when you think that even the most hardened criminals that populate our county’s prison are entitled to 72 hour conjugal visits with their partners and their families at least once every two months. You would think that these creatures Vision professes to care about would be entitled to the same consideration.

But, no.

Vision park board chair Aaron Jasper told the Courier the policy preventing procreation in the aquarium “struck the right balance.”

Well I can tell you, nobody asked the whales and dolphins and nobody asked the aquarium which, as you may know, has filed a legal challenge in the B.C. Supreme Court.

The aquarium is arguing that the motions passed by the park board, including setting up an oversight committee to keep an eye of aquarium scientists, are beyond its jurisdiction.

Aquarium CEO John Nightingale told the media: “Our marine mammal rescue program will be compromised by the ban on breeding cetaceans,” adding that “a ban on breeding cetaceans is both impractical and unwise, from an animal-care and animal-welfare standpoint.”

Incidentally, this is not the first of this park board’s decisions that have led to legal action. In fact, it could be safe to say, this park board has drawn more litigious responses then at any board in recent history.

There are several cases in the works regarding a grumpy group of six community centres not happy with the loss of their autonomy.

The board ran up against the law again when it attempted to put a bike path through Kits Point’s Hadden Park. It took an angry and determined citizens group to point out there was a covenant on the property placed there by the original donor of the land which prohibited such intrusions on the green space.

You might think that it would be better to negotiate than litigate. But look at what has happened to the 12 community centres that decided to sit down and work out a deal with the park board on a joint operating agreement.

Those talks are now in their second year. There have been more than 50 meetings between the community groups and city hall staff and more than a hundred among the community groups themselves. And still there is no final result.

Now we have the aquarium court challenge which ironically won’t likely be heard before November’s election after four of the five Vision board members who made the decision plan to step down.

Pity Mayor Gregor Robertson nixed the idea of a referendum on cetaceans in captivity. The question could be simple enough: “Are you pro or condom?”


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