28 April 2017

In support of the Parks Board position Re: Vancouver Aquarium

Dear Commissioners,

My field of expertise is animal behaviour; especially, cetaceans. For 10 years I worked closely with killer whales at an aquarium. For nine of those years I was the head trainer and oversaw the operations of the facility’s marine animal rescue centre. During that time, I was a regular guest speaker to animal behaviour classes at the University of Victoria and to psychology classes at Camosun College. During my days working with captive marine mammals I was well acquainted with the Vancouver Aquarium and we shared information and resources when Gil and Stephanie Hewlett were heading the facility. Currently, I am an advisor to the Whale Sanctuary Project. 

I once defended the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity, citing the value of research, education and the importance of the public being able to form a connection to the animal through their personal encounter. Over the span of years; through my daily interactions with cetaceans, along with research and discussions with experts in the field of animal behaviour, I gained an understanding of the depth and breadth of their intelligence and emotional capabilities. 

The realization of the intricacies of their intelligence and behaviour was one that took time for me to accept and integrate because it placed my actions in conflict with my understanding and empathy. I had learned that whales and dolphins are complex communicators, highly social, cognitive thinkers with long term memory and express a wide range of emotions.  They exhibit enjoyment, affection, loyalty and they even display compassion and altruistic behaviour, are self-aware and have distinct and unique… personalities.

These are traits that humans hold in high regard and how we define ourselves as the apex species on the planet. But, if whales and dolphins share these same psychological and behavioural traits, why are we not willing to extend the right to self-determination to another species simply because they look, live and communicate differently from our own.

British psychologist, Richard D. Ryder termed the attitude and belief of human supremacy and dominion over all other animals as; “speciesism” and equated it to racism or sexism. I would like to think that as compassionate, caring Canadians, we would place the welfare of an intelligent, sensitive and social species before our own wants and desires. 

As you are likely aware, the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is currently discussing an amendment to Bill S-203; Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act. An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins)

Those witnesses speaking on behalf of the Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland of Ontario, who have spoken against the amendment, have touted the value of education, research and the personal connection that visitors experience when seeing the animals in captivity.

Whales and dolphins have been in captivity for over fifty years and have been observed by millions upon millions of people. If the claims that this “up close and personal” encounter educates and motivates humans to develop a connection and respect for these animals, why is it that the ocean environments in which they live are in such desperate condition? Where are the millions of voices crying out to save the St. Lawrence Belugas? What of the Southern Resident Killer Whales who are starving for chinook salmon, harassed by boaters; their bodies saturated with toxins.

There is a subtle and subliminal disconnect that our children learn from visiting whales, dolphins and other animals in captivity; that humans have the right to do whatever they choose with the animals. We can use them for entertainment, we can use them for experimentation and we can hold them in captivity under the guise of education. In essence, children are learning that animals have no right to self-determination and that we alone determine if and how they exist. Therefore, animals are expendable and hold a lessor status in our world.

The debate around the ethics of holding animals in captivity has never been more pronounced and especially in regard to whales and dolphins. This is likely because they are not a terrestrial animal and in captivity, live in a highly artificial environment that cannot possibly replicate conditions in the wild. Physical exercise in captivity is incomparable to their life in the wild where they travel widely and experience the exertion of hunting and capturing food. In captivity, their social behaviour is altered, in-breeding may occur, natural communications are affected due to environmental constraints. 

Successive generations of animals born into captivity will be further weakened by a limited gene pool, an aseptic environment, a diet supplemented with vitamins and medications to maintain their health, and a stagnant, unchallenging lifestyle. The physiological and behavioural constraints of captivity have stripped them of the challenges of life that strengthened them as a species and ensured their survival and ability to thrive. Future animals that are born into captivity will become mere charlatans of their wild counterparts.

For the most part, research being done with captive cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium has been ineffectual to the conservation of wild cetaceans and more often is a rationalization for, or purely beneficial to, their continued captivity. New technologies have made research in the field more effective and less costly.

Throughout the developed world, efforts to discontinue the practice of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity continue to grow. Ten countries in the world have either banned the keeping of dolphins or whales in captivity, or have imposed standards of care that exceed the viability of establishing a facility in the country; such as the United Kingdom.

Currently, the only expanding markets are in Russia and China. Even so, within those countries there is an increasing voice of dissent against holding whales and dolphins captive.

The Vancouver Aquarium is a well accredited and widely respected organization. Their Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is an asset and its education programs are world class. 

It is disappointing that even though John Nightingale has stated publicly that the Vancouver Aquarium will survive without its cetacean displays, he continues to resist change. Mr. Nightingale’s statement that they will have no other choice than to kill whales and dolphins if they can’t keep them at the aquarium, is an alarming denial of the other options available
The inflammatory statement made by Randy Pratt, incoming Board Chair of the aquarium, that: “The proposed ban jeopardizes Canada’s only marine mammal rescue program and eliminates our ability to save the most vulnerable of animals — those that cannot care for themselves,” Is such an obvious falsehood, it’s embarrassing. I find it very concerning that Mr. Pratt, Mr. Nightingale and Dr. Haulena are so desperate as to use exaggerated threats and veiled lies in order to manipulative public opinion.

It’s time that the Vancouver Aquarium put aside its intransigence. If they truly want to put the welfare of the animals as a priority, they would allow the belugas that were loaned to SeaWorld and the Georgia Aquarium, to stay where they are and not subject the whales to the highly stressful and life-threatening experience of being relocated
If permitted to continue maintaining “rescued” cetaceans at the aquarium, I can’t help but wonder how far they would go in order to qualify an animal as unable to be released, in order to maintain their attraction at the aquarium.

Throughout the world there has been a paradigm shift in public attitude about animal welfare. In Canada, consumers have supported the phasing out of constrictive battery cages for hens and the use of gestation crates for pigs. Intolerance of animal abuse has never been more pronounced. Industrial livestock production is under intense scrutiny and in the U.S., animal abuse is a felony offence in an expanding number of states
What we are witnessing is a new epoch in human understanding and an evolving increase of empathy as science continues to offer new insights into animal behaviour. Public opinion is not going to reverse itself and within Canada, the demands for an end to captivity for cetaceans, will only grow louder.
Thank for taking the time to read this lengthy observation/opinion.  I welcome your questions or comments.

Steve Huxter
Victoria, British Columbia

25 April 2017

Wild About Vancouver week has begun! Park Board Commissioner Mackinnon makes it official

via wildaboutvancouver.com

Manfred’s Meadow in Everett Crowley Park rests at a height above the north shore of the Fraser River that affords a panoramic view back to towards the river through some maturing trees and a vast number of more recently planted trees (including many new trees being planted as part of the  Canada 150 celebration). 

On April 22, 2017 during the park’s Earth Day celebration, Wild About Vancouver week was proclaimed by Park Board Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon.  This marks the beginning of the Wild About Vancouver (WAV) outdoor education festival.

During WAV, many outdoor events and lessons are taking place throughout the GVRD to celebrate the importance of time spent outdoors.
The Everett Crowley Park Committee, Champlain Heights Community Centre, the Vancouver Park Board and various other partners created a very well attended Earth Day festival in and around Manfred’s Meadow.  There were over 20 events offered by 20 different community-based partners participating in the festival, and there were a lot of people out.

Everett Crowley Park is a great place to explore in Vancouver.  It is a park that is coming into itself (only declared a park in 1987) after a period as “Vancouver’s main landfill (the Kerr Road dump) from 1944 to 1967” (ECPS).   Based on my experience at the 2017 Earth Day Festival, it is clear that there is much community passion for Everett Crowley Park and also many opportunities to get involved in how the park develops.  As Vancouver continues to urbanize, Vancouver parks will serve as accessible nature places.  With Everett Crowley’s stated aim to remain a “wilderness” park, and with the number of trees being planted, it will not be too long before a mature forest lives at Everett Crowley.  Just imagine the forest bathing opportunities.

A clear and strong message from the event was around the importance of planting trees, all of us, regularly, everywhere.  For relationships between trees and humans to develop, we need to be around each other more often.  Plant a tree!

22 April 2017

Some random thoughts on Earth day 2017

  • Earth Day was started 47 years ago. Gaylord Nelson, a Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, was moved to action after witnessing the ravages of an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. He partnered with California Republican Senator Pete McCloskey working to promote events across America on April 22, 1970. 
  • The twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline will increase oil tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet nearly seven-fold.
  • Friday April 21, 2017 was Britain’s first ever working day without coal power since the Industrial Revolution, according to the National Grid.
  • Germany, Denmark, & Scotland have had days when they ran their entire grids on solar and wind power. 
  • In 2015, 97% of Scottish household electricity came from wind power. 
  • Costa Rica ran their grid for 450 days in the past two years totally on renewables.
  • Sweden is the first country to declare its intention to go 100% renewable.
  • While 60% of Canada's electricity comes from hydro-electricity, only 3% comes from wind, solar, and bio-mass.
  • While hydro-electricity is a renewable, the flooding of prime agricultural land to build reservoirs like at site 'C' is not sustainable.
  •  British Columbia has a vast potential for wind power that is unused as the government's priority is fossil fuel extraction and transportation.
  • For 47 years we have come together to celebrate this place we call home and to work for a better, more sustainable world. As you think about the coming election and who should be elected, look to the party policies and vote for a government that understands that economic growth today shouldn't be on the shoulders of the generations to come. 

21 April 2017

5 ways Vancouver is bringing more wildlife back to the city

From restoring a salt marsh to creating wildlife corridors, Vancouver's biodiversity strategy aims to make wild animals at home in the city

 By: Metro Published on Fri Apr 21 2017

The Vancouver Park Board biodiversity strategy is starting to take root, one year after the wide-ranging plan was approved to bring wildlife back to the city. “There’s a social aspect to nature in the city — people want to be able to experience it as part of their daily lives,” said Nick Page, a biologist with the park board. 

Here are five projects or goals the park board is working on right now to bring the wild back to Vancouver.

1.     Salt marsh restoration in New Brighton Park
Vancouver has drastically altered its shoreline to make more space for industry and housing. But in New Brighton Park on Burrard Inlet, Port Metro Vancouver and the park board are working to remove fill that was placed there in the 1960s and restore a tidal salt marsh. The aim is to restore a habitat that once supported clam beds, juvenile salmon and shore birds.

2.     Native plants instead of invasive species
In the 1940s and 50s, Everett Crowley Park in Vancouver’s Killarney neighbourhood was a city dump. Today, the park board is removing invasive species such as Himalayan blackberry and Japanese knotweed that have flourished — but make it impossible for native tree species to grow. Restoring native plants creates a more welcoming home for native B.C. wildlife such as squirrels, woodpeckers and owls.

 3.     Bring buried creeks back into parks
Work is underway to reintroduce a creek back to New Brighton park, terminating in the salt marsh. That waterway is proposed to extend through Hastings Park along with a restored wetland. Tatlow Park in Kitsilano, where a stream once flowed, is another site the park board is considering. Bringing streams out into the open instead of flowing through pipes is actually cheaper and keeps the water cleaner, Page said.

4.     Create wildlife corridors
To thrive, wildlife needs to be able to move around the city, Page said. So finding ways to make corridors through the city — like the still-under-design Arbutus Greenway — is also an important part of the strategy. 

5.     Return of the wild 
One way to measure the success of biodiversity efforts is when animals come back to areas they left decades ago. Beavers are a common sight in Stanley Park — but recently they returned to Charleson Park in south False Creek. Page would like to see the return of smaller predators such as the American marten because that would signal the ecosystem is healthy enough to support the full food chain. He acknowledges humans and animals can come into conflict in the city. But “I think we can co-exist. Our alternatives are much more difficult and probably unsuccessful in terms of trying to manage or remove [animals].” 

Take Action 
Plant a native species and pollinators for a bee-friendly garden, with a wide range of flowering plants that will provide blooms from early spring right through the growing season into fall. Not only will the bees visit, it will attract birds and butterflies as well. For tips visit feedthebees.org.


11 April 2017

The passing of a Vancouver pioneer and icon: Bill Wong 1922-2017

Bill Wong
photo courtesy of Caroline Y.M Ng

The following is based on remarks I made at last night's meeting of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation plus some additional information provided by Bill's family:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to recognize the passing of a Vancouver pioneer and icon. Bill Wong, of Modernize Tailors, the last of Chinatown Tailor Shops passed early on Saturday morning. 

Bill was born in Vancouver and raised on Pender street in Chinatown. Like many children of immigrants, Bills parents wanted more for their children than they could have. As a result, Bill and his brother Jack went to UBC and studied engineering. 

Upon graduation due to the systemic, institutional racism prevalent in Vancouver in the late 40s and early 50s, neither Jack nor Bill could find employment in their field and so they returned to the tailor shop of their parents. Ever hopeful for a chance, their younger brother Milton, a few years later, studied at UBC and was more successful breaking the colour bar becoming one of Vancouvers great financiers and philanthropists. You might remember Milton for bringing Dragon Boat racing to Vancouver for Expo 86

Bill, Milton, and Jack Wong

Jack and Bill continued through the years at Modernize Tailors, with Jack walking to work from his home near Queen Elizabeth park well into his 80s. Bill continued to work right up until this past Thursday. Bill Wong was 95 years old.

I had the great privilege to know Bill Wong and would drop by the shop when I was down that way. He always greeted me as Teacher’, an honourific showing his great esteem for education. He followed Vancouver politics and asked about the Park Board whenever I saw him.

With Bill Wong, another piece of Vancouver history passes. His story, and that of Modernize Tailors, has been told in the film Tailor Made: Chinatown's Last Tailors, a 2008 production you can see every once in a while, on BCs own Knowledge network.

Like many of his generation, Vancouvers parks were the Wong family's backyards and play space. He lived across from Queen Elizabeth park for many, many years and loved like it was his own. Bill was a keen golfer who played at the Vancouver Park Board courses--usually Fraserview or McCleery-- year round, two times per week for 50 year.

Bill was an avid gardener and greatly admired the work of our Parks gardeners. Bill and his wife Zoe were long time supporters and participants in the Renfrew Park Community Centre Seniors programs.

Bill's children, as well as his nieces and nephews, were all active with Vancouver Parks and Recreation or affiliated community associations. His daughter Glenna was a Recreation Programmer for almost 35 years. Bill's sons Steve and Peter were outdoor lifeguards on our beaches.

I hope you will join with me in extending our condolences to the Wong family, and thanking them for sharing Bills life and legacy with all of Vancouver. 

A video clip of my remarks here

A clip from Global News January 2012 here.

I've gained a few pounds but can still squeeze into my Modernize Tailors suit. photo by Shirley Joe

Vancouver Park Board approves new Joint Operating Agreement with Community Centre Associations

Vancouver Park Board
News Release
April 11, 2017

At a VancouverPark Board meeting last night, Commissioners approved a new Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) to offer to 20 Community Centre Associations (CCAs).
The decision caps off a one-year consultation between the Park Board and the CCAs and introduces a historic new chapter in their relationship.  
“The CCAs provided valuable feedback throughout this process which has resulted in a stronger document,” said Park Board Chair Michael Wiebe. “Approval of this new JOA marks a major step in rebuilding our long-standing partnership with the CCAs and helps ensure we continue to deliver the best possible recreation services to residents.”
The new JOA clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Park Board, as well as those of the CCAs. Importantly, it expands access to recreation services and benefits for all residents in all communities across Vancouver.
Key new public benefits envisioned in the new agreement include:
·         Popular OneCard and Flexipass will be accepted city-wide
·         Low income discounts available at all community centres
·         Full access to community centres for all residents - no membership fees required
·         New system-wide recreation programs
CCAs and the Park Board jointly operate all but three of the Vancouver’s 24 community centres. 
The CCAs deliver programs in their centres that reflect local needs, while the Park Board operates and maintains the City owned community centre buildings. The Park Board also runs all pools, rinks and some fitness centres.  
CCAs play an important role in Vancouver’s recreation system. They design and operate programs in individual community centres that reflect local needs, foster community engagement and drive volunteer recruitment. CCAs also deliver special events for communities.
The story of Vancouver’s community centres began in 1949 when Marpole-Oakridge Community Centre opened in southwest Vancouver. Since then, the Park Board and community centre associations have operated under multiple joint operating agreements. Most of the current agreements date as far back as 1979. Over the years there have been many unsuccessful attempts to negotiate updated joint operating agreements with various parties.
The facilitated consultation launched in April 2016 was distinct from negotiations of past years in that it was a “one table” fully inclusive and transparent process model open to all community centre association boards and directors, with support and participation from all current Park Board Commissioners. It was an open process with information shared at key milestones. 
Community centre associations gave a considerable amount of feedback throughout the lengthy consultation that was incorporated into the JOA.
The signing deadline for CCAs is September 30, 2017 with the new JOA scheduled to take effect January 1, 2018.
Learn more about the new Joint Operating Agreement and consultation here.
Media contact:
Vancouver Park Board

10 April 2017

Vancouverites like gentle rain, and even torrential downpours. We don't, however, like rain that comes from the side apparently.

What your 'Vanniversary' says about Vancouver
The City of Vancouver set out to discover more about the people who live here

Martha Perkins / Vancouver Courier  April 8, 2017 09:25 AM

Vancouverites like gentle rain, and even torrential downpours. We don't, however, like rain that comes from the side apparently.   Photograph By David Marcu 

Vancouverites, you own a lot of umbrellas. You need to because you lose a lot of them, too.

You are very good recyclers but only a third of you have recently used a carshare.

To celebrate its birthday on April 6, the City of Vancouver used its TalkVancouver portal to ask residents about their own "Vanniversary" — the day that marks their arrival in Vancouver or, if they were born here, what they like to do in Vancouver on their birthday to celebrate..

More than 2,300 people responded. Here are some highlights.

About You

• 69 per cent moved here from somewhere else; the most common reason was the lure of west coast life

• 25 per cent were born and raised here

When you knew you were a Vancouverite

• “Frustrated with housing prices, we finally decided to pull the chute on Vancouver – but then we couldn't choose another Canadian city that had this balance of bikeability, weather, friends and fun. So we're here to stay....”

• “I am not there yet. I still feel pretty Spanish. But this Talk Vancouver is helping me to feel part of the city and build the identity I could say I am proud of..”

You and the Rain

• 55 per cent say "rain blowing sideways" is their least favourite type of rain

• 36 per cent like gentle spring rains — did the questionnaire ask how often? — but 22 per cent said torrential downpours were the best

• one-third own four or more umbrellas — that's because a lot of us lose them on a regular basis
You and the Snow

• while half of us thought winter was far too long, it also held some of our favourite memories such as skating on Trout Lake and brought people together

• “There was a blue sky in January!!! ," one respondent wrote. "I was probably in the best mood I have ever been in in January since I moved here. And I had so many random conversations -- I met more neighbours shoveling snow for 30 minutes than the five years had lived in my place."

• the city should have and could have done more to cope with the snow.

On Vancouver "typical" attitudes and behaviour

• beautiful, expensive and green were three of the most popular words to describe the city

• over 90 per cent recycle as much as they can

• 70 per cent of respondents had not used a carshare in the past three months

• the thrill of a Vancouver sunset never gets old but 74 per cent have ranted about real estate prices

• the top must-see places for out-of-town guests are Stanley Park (86 per cent), Granville Island (83 per cent) and a beach (51 per cent)

• the top three topics of conversation were housing (49 per cent), the weather (47 per cent) and restaurants and food (41 per cent)

For the full report is go here and find the link at the bottom of the article.