The City of Burnaby is taking a long, hard look at the potential ramifications of a shark fin ban in the city, according to Mayor Derek Corrigan.
Corrigan had asked staff to compile a report on the issue in July, after animal rights activists held a demonstration outside city hall and Anthony Marr, a Vancouver activist, spoke to council about a potential ban.
But Burnaby is taking time to gather more information following a ruling by an Ontario Superior Court judge on Nov. 30 that stated Toronto's shark fin ban was invalid, Corrigan said.
"We want to be very careful before we make a commitment," he said. "We want to do so with the expectation that it's likely it will be upheld."
The ruling by Justice James Spence stated that the City of Toronto had exceeded its municipal powers by instituting such a ban, as shark finning is not done within the city. Spence also ruled shark fin soup was not a health threat to the community.
Corrigan has said repeatedly that a ban should be made at the provincial or federal level, mentioning statewide bans in the United States.
Burnaby has to consider cultural traditions, businesses and sustainability issues when making a decision, Corrigan said.
"That's why we're taking a long time to look at this, and in the midst of it, this Toronto decision's come up, which really has set everything back," he added.
"I want to look at the merits of that decision and get an opinion from our lawyers as to whether or not it is a failure in the drafting of that particular bylaw, or whether it's a fundamental issue that we really shouldn't be involved in this area," Corrigan said. "And I wouldn't want to go in and force businesses in our community to end up in court to get us to do something about, if in fact we didn't believe it was legal when we put it in."
The Vancouver Animal Defence League also approached Vancouver and Richmond about a ban during the summer.
Activists have made a concerted effort to get bans implemented in cities in the Lower Mainland, saying the way shark fins are harvested is inhumane and that some of the species affected are endangered or threatened. But restaurateurs are fighting back, saying municipalities do not have the authority to institute a ban.
"We support environmental protection, but we also treasure the freedom of choice," an email sent to the NOW from Burnaby-based Fortune House Seafood Restaurant stated. "A municipal ban on shark fins is not the solution. Leave it to the federal government."
The issue is particularly challenging for a city like Richmond with a large Asian population, Corrigan said.
"It makes it more difficult for Mayor (Malcolm) Brodie and it makes it difficult of course for us, too, because we have a big Chinese population," he said.
Shark finning, which animal rights activists say is often done while the shark is alive, after which it is thrown back in the ocean, is a controversial practice but so are other methods of acquiring food, Corrigan pointed out.
"Those of us who eat meat always are people who have caused the death of animals in order to serve that purpose," he said. "So, you know, you really have to examine, why am I doing this, why am I singling out this one food?"
After more than two decades in municipal politics, Corrigan said he hasn't seen cities tackle an issue such as shark fin sales before. While cities have passed symbolic motions in the past, the fallout did not affect local businesses as this one would, he said.
"It's not the first time municipalities have stepped into areas for symbolic purposes. Traditionally, for instance, by declaring our city a nuclear-free zone, we stepped up knowing that we didn't have any ability to prevent nuclear weapons from being brought into the country or from us being exposed to them as a result of federal policies," he said, adding, "I think municipalities have tended to exceed their jurisdictions sometimes, in order to make a point."