Stuart Mackinnon Archives

A pivotal vote that will affect the Vancouver Aquarium happens Monday evening

Last Monday I submitted a motion to the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation to hold a plebiscite during the 2011 civic election on the phasing out of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in captivity in Vancouver parks. The latest death of a beluga whale calf in June 2010 at the Vancouver aquarium has brought up once again the topic of cetaceans in captivity. According to the LifeForce Foundation, at least 36 cetaceans, including 9 orcas, 7 narwhals, 8 belugas and 12 Pacific White Sided Dolphins have died at the Vancouver Aquarium. The academy award winning documentary film, The Cove, has brought to the world’s attention the industrial killing and capture of dolphin populations. The Vancouver Province newspaper on June 23, 2010 wrote, in an editorial, that the public are calling into question the wisdom and morality of keeping captive cetaceans that otherwise deserve to be born, live, and die in their natural environment, saying "the latest in a long line of whale deaths at the aquarium — this time one-year-old beluga calf Nala — calls into question the wisdom and morality of keeping captive whales and other large marine animals. It is a practice that must end."

Aaron Jasper, the Vision Vancouver Chair of the Park Board, in a press release last week called into question the legalities of holding a plebiscite, claiming that I am “putting the Park Board at risk of a potential lawsuit, in spite of his prior knowledge of a legally binding agreement with the Vancouver Aquarium.” Commissioner Jasper does not state what this ‘legal binding’ agreement is, nor the basis of a potential lawsuit. Nor does he state that my motion passed through the city’s own legal department and was approved by both the acting GM of the Park Board and himself as Chair.

My motion is not about whales and dolphins in captivity, nor is it about the Aquarium. It is about the rights of the citizens of Vancouver to express their views on what happens in our public parks. Commissioner Jasper would have you believe that this cannot be done, and so now, according to him, the issue becomes one of government liability when conducting the normal business of government. If the government, in this case the city, cannot conduct normal business—in this case conducting a democratic survey in the form of a non-binding plebiscite—by the terms of a lease or contract, then I would ask, is this lease or contract binding or lawful? In other words, can the city sign away the public’s democratic rights in a contract? Now stop and think about that for a moment. Can the city sign away your democratic rights? I don’t think so, and I don’t for a minute believe that the courts would allow for that either. In which case, Commissioner Jasper’s release was simply a red herring and a personal attack.

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