Outrage over Ontario Superior Court Judge’s decision to overturn Toronto’s ban on the sale and possession of shark fin

 

Toronto, Canada, December 1st, 2012 – Fin Free, the coalition of shark conservationists working together to ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fin, urges the Toronto City Council to immediately appeal Justice James Spence’s ruling against Toronto’s ban on shark fin.

 

On October 25, 2011, the Toronto City Council voted overwhelmingly in support of the bylaw (38-4), following suit with several other municipalities across Ontario and several states in the US. Since then, the Fin Free movement has spread internationally as well as Canada-wide, where similar bans have been adopted or proposed throughout British Columbia and Alberta.

 

The passage of Toronto’s shark-fin bylaw satisfies two key sections of the City of Toronto Act; including section 8(2)(5) respecting, “[e]conomic, social and environmental well-being of the City”, and section 8(2)(6) respecting, “[h]ealth, safety and well-being of persons”. Despite this, FARGA - an organization developed to fight shark fin bans - alongside four members of the Chinese business community, funded and organized an appeal to strike down Toronto’s bylaw, heard by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on November 5th. Subsequently, Justice James Spence declared Toronto’s ban as invalid based on the City’s perceived lack of power as it pertains to the enforcement of such a bylaw. The four individuals challenging the ban claimed that the bylaw unfairly targets the Chinese Community, which often notes incorrectly that the shark fins are obtained legally and do not come from endangered shark species.

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According to Rob Stewart, director of the award winning Sharkwater and co-leader of Fin Free, “We are extremely disappointed in Justice Spence’s ruling, and urge the City of Toronto to initiate an immediate appeals process against his shortsighted decision. I believe that municipalities have both the jurisdiction and the responsibility towards its’ residents to enact and enforce such by-laws given the implications of shark finning and the consumption of shark fin.” The court decision flies in the face of the overwhelming will of councillors in other Ontario municipalities where bylaws to ban the sale, trade and possession of shark fin passed unanimously. Indeed, some of the finest legal minds in the country agree that Ontario municipalities had - and do have - jurisdiction to pass these progressive and important laws.

 

Consuming shark fin is dangerous due to the high levels of mercury present in sharks. As large predators, sharks can have concentrations of mercury that are 10,000 times higher than their surrounding waters. A dangerous neurotoxin to humans, risks associated with mercury consumption are plentiful are include; damage to the developing brain of the fetus resulting in mental disabilities; interference with a child’s brain development; increased incidence of autism in children exposed to mercury; increased risk of heart disease; low sperm count and even sterility in men; numerous neurological problems, and others.

 

As apex predators, sharks are also critically important to ocean health and maintaining its’ fragile balance. Recent studies indicate that regional elimination of sharks can cause disastrous effects further down the food chain including the collapse of fisheries and the death of coral reefs. The rampant demand for shark fin is the leading cause of the dramatic decline in shark populations globally, many of which are caught illegally. In 2006, Dr. Shelley Clarke’s analysis of shark fin markets in Hong Kong estimated that upwards of 73 million sharks are being killed each year for the largely unregulated shark fin trade. Currently, one third of all pelagic sharks are threatened with extinction, and half of the shark species targeted by commercial fisheries are threatened. Even though the City of Toronto is geographically distant from ocean waters, the demand for shark fin soup in the City exacerbates the often illegal trade. Studies indicate up to half of those sharks are caught illegally.

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Fin Free operates on a positive and balanced set of guiding principles, and encourages collaboration and citizen empowerment. We work internationally without prejudice towards race, color, nationality, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or gender. Fin Free promotes the message that shark finning cannot be blamed on a single community, culture or country, but rather that it is a global issue we are all equally responsible for; either via demand, supply, or consumption. We believe communities everywhere can and should work together to affect positive change. By banning the sale and possession of shark fin products in our cities, we are ensuring that we don’t support the shark trade – much of which is illegal and fueled by the high demand for shark fins only.

 

While unfortunate, this has raised the profile of the issue and adds to the pressure to pass Bill C-380 in the House Of Commons which would ban the importation of shark fin into Canada. “It is our hope the City of Toronto will appeal Justice James Spence’s ruling immediately and urge the citizens of Toronto to take a stand. Banning shark fins is the only effective way to quickly stop an unsustainable, often illegal and inhumane world practice with far reaching ramifications,” says Julie Andersen, founder of Shark Angels and co-leader of Fin Free. “I have personally witnessed the devastation and unsustainable destruction of this industry around the world during the last five years and desperately urge City leadership to act in favor of not just the sharks but its citizens. This isn't a cultural issue - it is a world issue.” 

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