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City council votes to ban shark fin products in Toronto

In a landmark decision, Toronto city council voted Tuesday to ban shark fin and its products in the city, joining three other Ontario cities that have forbidden the Chinese delicacy.

The vote passed 38-4, with Mayor Rob Ford and councillors Giorgio Mammoliti, David Shiner and Doug Holyday voting against the motion.

“It is time today to ban shark fins in the City of Toronto. It is time today for us to become part of a global solution to stop the slaughter of tens of millions of sharks at every point on this earth right now,” said Glenn De Baeremaeker, one of two councillors behind the ban.

However, hundreds of protesters showed up at Nathan Phillips Square to speak out against the idea.

“There are legal fishermen. They obtain all the shark products the legal way, from federal government and from fishery, and we have commercial fishery to get all the shark and serve the shark meat,” one protester told CityNews. “Can you imagine punishing the people who get shark meat legally? You should punish the illegal fisherman not the business owner, the taxpayer.”

One restaurant owner, who says he sells at least one bowl of shark fin soup everyday, says the ban is unjust.

“I don’t think it’s fair to us – fair to Chinese people, because shark fin is Chinese culture,” said Johnny Yung, owner of New Sky Restaurant

His concerns were echoed by deputy mayor, Coun. Doug Holyday. After holding a motion on the debate in the morning, Holyday questioned Tuesday afternoon whether due diligence had been done.

“Is there a segment of the providers of shark fins that do it properly? Do we know what per cent of the fins may be illegal?” Holyday asked.

“No, we don’t,” came the reply.

There are concerns that the bylaw itself will not stand up to a legal challenge. A city report noted that as a municipality, Toronto has no grounds — whether health and safety, consumer protection, or nuisance control — to ban shark fins

Earlier during the debate six councillors presented a petition from more than 10,000 Toronto residents who support the ban.

“Petition signed by 16,000 Toronto residents just presented to City Council in support of shark fin ban. Another 8000 online. #FinFreeToronto,” Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who first proposed the ban along with De Baeremaeker, tweeted on Tuesday morning.

Later that morning, Coun. Chin Lee introduced a motion to amend the bylaw to include the possession of shark fin for “bona fide research and educational purposes.”

The motion was held by Holyday, postponing the debate until about 2:40 p.m. The vote was originally scheduled for Monday.

The executive director of the Toronto Chinese Business Association, Barbara Chiu said the bylaw fails to consider ethical and more humane methods for catching sharks.

The protesters have also called the ban an attack on their culture and businesses. The Toronto Chinese Business Association claims the move would drive wedding parties out of the city.

The bylaw bans the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fin or derivative products. Demand for shark fin has pushed many species of shark to the brink of extinction.

Last week, the Licensing and Standards Committee gave the proposal the green light to move forward for a council vote. The committee also issued recommendations, including pushing for a nation-wide shark fin ban and beefing up protection of sharks in Canadian waters.

The method of collecting shark fin has been described as inhumane. Fishermen catch the sharks, slice off their fins and tails, then throw the fish back into the water to die.

The harvesting of fins had led to s significant decline in the shark population. Non-profit organization Shark Truth says up to 73 million sharks are killed through finning every year, leading some shark populations to decline by as much as 90 per cent in recent years.

Former Brantford MPP Phil Gillies said hunters cut fins off sharks while they’re still alive. The creatures are then tossed back into the water where they bleed to death.

Brantford became the first municipality in the country to pass a shark fin ban back in May. Oakville and Mississauga also passed bans on the controversial Chinese delicacy.

California has also banned the sale, possession and trade of shark fin in the state.

With files from The Canadian Press, Erin Criger and Shawne McKeown