20 May 2019

Vancouver Aquarium parent body sues City of Vancouver and park board, alleging millions in lost revenue

by Charlie Smith on May 18th, 2019

 The Ocean Wise Conservation Association has filed another legal action against two local governing bodies.

The parent organization of the Vancouver Aquarium has alleged breach of contract in a lawsuit naming the City of Vancouver and Vancouver park board as defendants.

Ocean Wise alleges that it has lost $4 million in annual revenues in each of the past two years as a result of the previous park board's 6-1 vote in 2017 to ban the display of cetaceans in captivity.

In its 2017 filings with Canada Revenue Agency, Ocean Wise reported $46,017,194 in revenues.

In its 2016 filings with Canada Revenue Agency, total revenues were slightly higher: $46,512,527. Ocean Wise's filings for the 2018 calendar year have not yet been posted on the Canada Revenue Agency website.

The revenue numbers from 2016 and 2017 include everything from gifts to government grants to amounts received from other charities.

It remains to be seen if the lawsuit could open the door for the city or park board to obtain information about any subsidiary companies that might be fully or partially owned by Ocean Wise.

It will be intriguing to see if lawyers for the city and park board try to determine whether current and former executives of the Vancouver Aquarium may have received compensation from those subsidiaries in addition to what they receive from the Vancouver aquarium.

Two of the commissioners who voted for the ban—Stuart Mackinnon and John Coupar—were reelected in 2018. A third, Casey Crawford, was defeated.

Two others, Michael Wiebe and Sarah Kirby-Yung, were elected to Vancouver city council in 2018. A sixth, Catherine Evans, lost her bid to be elected to city council.

The only commissioner to vote against the majority was Erin Shum, who was defeated in 2018 as an independent candidate for Vancouver city council.

The board passed this measure while the Vancouver Aquarium was in the midst of a $100-million expansion to its footprint in Stanley Park.

In its lawsuit, Ocean Wise has alleged that this has led to a 13 percent decline in attendance in each of the last two years.

None of the plaintiff's allegations have been proven in court. The city and the park board have not yet filed statements of defence.

Previous ruling upheld city and park board appeal

Earlier this year, a three-judge panel on the B.C. Court of Appeal unanimously ruled in favour of the City of Vancouver and Vancouver park board in another action filed by Ocean Wise.

In that case, the court upheld the park board's authority to regulate the display of cetaceans in Stanley Park, which overruled an earlier decision in B.C. Supreme Court.

Cetaceans include whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

Ocean Wise had argued that its licensing agreement with the park board precluded commissioners from imposing their will in this area.

In the new lawsuit, Ocean Wise alleges that its agreement with the park board allows for the display of cetaceans.

The B.C. Court of Appeal remitted the case back to B.C. Supreme Court to issue a ruling on three other grounds brought forward by the aquarium:
* the bylaw amendment "offended procedural fairness";
* the bylaw amendment should be voided for "vagueness";
* and that the bylaw amendment infringed on the aquarium's right to freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

After the B.C. Court of Appeal issued its ruling, Vancouver park board chair Stuart Mackinnon said in a media release that the amendment was "thoughtful and reflective of public opinion".

The aquarium's recently retired CEO, John Nightingale, announced in 2018 that the organization planned to phase out the display of whales and dolphins.

"The ongoing discussions about whales and dolphins in our care have been a distraction from real threats to the ocean and have sidelined the critical work we lead," he wrote on the organization’s website. "We aim to inspire people in every corner of the planet to participate in creating healthy oceans, and it’s time to get on with it."

That statement came after the deaths of several marine mammals at the aquarium over a three-year period.

The fatalities included a harbour porpoise named Jack, a dolphin named Hana following bowl surgery, a false killer whale named Chester, and beluga whales named Aurora and Qila.

(2019) The Georgia Straight

18 May 2019

Vancouver Park Board puts moratorium on hosting new commercial events

/ Vancouver Courier
May 16, 2019 

It will likely be a few years before Vancouver could see any new large-scale events coming to one of the city’s parks.

Vancouver Park Board this week voted to put a moratorium on introducing any new commercial initiatives until after the board has updated, and approved, its special events guidelines. Any existing events, and new events that are considered charitable or non-profit, will be allowed to continue. However, the park board will not consider any applications for new commercial events until after the guidelines, which were last updated and approved in 2003, are revamped.

That means that if events such as last year’s Skookum music festival and the Vancouver Mural Fest concert in Jonathan Rogers Park, Diner en Blanc and the annual Lululemon SeaWheeze half marathon were proposed this year, the board would not entertain the application until after the guidelines are updated.

Octavio Silva, manager of business development, estimated updating the guidelines will take about 12 to 15 months to complete.

Paul Runnals, an owner of BrandLive, the event production company behind last year’s Skookum Festival in Stanley Park, among other events, spoke at Monday’s meeting and urged commissioners to continue to allow new commercial events while updating the guidelines.

“We support the need for an updated and balanced strategy towards the hosting of public and private events, which is respectful of the rich and historical importance of certain sites to the local First Nations, while still making space available for free and community events,” he said. “However, this strategy must also facilitate private events that support the meeting and convention sector, as well as commercial events that bring in significant cultural, economic, tourism and employment benefits to the city, to local businesses and to local residents.”

The park board issues approximately 1,300 event permits a year. Most of them, roughly 94 per cent, are recurring events that happen on an annual basis. The remaining six per cent are new initiatives and of those, 12 per cent were new commercial events last year — Skookum, the mural fest concert and Bacio Rosso Gourmet Cabaret Cirque in Queen Elizabeth Park.

Commercial events, with 15 taking place in parks in 2018, make up about one per cent of the total number of events that take place in parks annually. However, that one per cent brings in 44 per cent of the park board’s revenue generated from hosting events — $238,500 last year.

Without parks as possible venue options, many events would struggle to find a home in the city.
“One of the biggest challenges our industry faces is a lack of suitable venues to host events in and around the downtown peninsula,” Runnals said. “With the pace of development that has been ongoing through the Lower Mainland, a number of important event sites have been lost including… the Concord lands in northeast False Creek, while others have significant physical or other restrictions that limit their viability such as the north plaza of the art gallery and Jack Poole Plaza down at the convention centre.”

The motion passed in a 5-2 vote with NPA commissioners John Coupar and Tricia Barker in opposition. “We sometimes talk about corporate events as if they’re some sort of evil thing,” Coupar said, adding that many popular attractions in the city, such as Bloedel Conservatory, VanDusen Botanical Garden and the H.R. MacMillan planetarium, are the result of corporate philanthropy.

Barker said while she supports the idea of updating the guidelines, “I also don’t think that they are so broken that we can’t let another event come in… I think we are reasonable people and we can look at those events and make really good decisions on whether they’re appropriate in our parks or not.”

Green commissioner Camil Dumont voiced concern over the effect that events can have on parks.
“There are parks in our system that are really stressed in regard to how much event activity takes place in them,” he said. “I think particularly of VanDusen garden and, I think, the botanical and horticultural priorities of that space are compromised, in my view, by the amount of events there.”

Board chair Stuart Mackinnon supported the motion, saying it allows the park board to maintain any current events.

“None of those will go away. It simply says that we’re going to hit the pause button, which I think is a really good idea…” he said. “This is my third term on the park board and, as a group, we rarely say no to corporate events and I want to make sure that we know why we’re making those decisions, what the ramifications are going to be in the future and that we have the public behind us when we make those decisions.”

Coupar said he is concerned a 12 to 15month pause could take longer than anticipated.
“Things always take longer than we expect at the park board,” he said. “That’s a given. It’s not because our staff aren’t working hard, it’s because they have a lot of things to deal with, so 18 months can become two years, two years can become two and a half years.”


15 May 2019

Otter's long departure means koi can return to Vancouver Chinese garden

The Canadian Press
May 9, 2019 

VANCOUVER — Koi are safe to swim again in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver that was once a hunting ground for an elusive otter.

Three adults and 344 juvenile ornamental koi were removed from the pond and kept at the Vancouver Aquarium last November after the otter began feasting on the expensive koi.

It even killed a 50-year-old fish named Madonna, before it disappeared again, despite numerous attempts by staff to trap the animal.

The koi that were removed were returned to the pond on Thursday, along with two other adults that had been donated.

Vancouver Park Board chairman Stuart Mackinnon says the fate of the koi generated concern locally and internationally and he's pleased to see the fish back in their home.

Mackinnon says the garden staff have added steel plates to the park gates, deterring any other otters from getting inside.

The garden closed for a week during the height of the otter's destruction and the saga set off a storm on social media among those rooting for and against the otter.

Koi embody positive connotations for many Asian cultures, from good luck to abundance and perseverance, and a statement from the garden says the fish are often an important and symbolic part of classical Chinese gardens.

 © 2019 Vancouver Courier