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Statement from Kristyn Wong-Tam on Bill S-238, Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act

Senator Fabian Manning, Chair
Senator Mark Gold, Deputy Chair
Senator Jim Munson, 3rd Member
Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans

Good day Senators and thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Committee on this important matter. My name is Kristyn Wong-Tam. I am a Toronto City Councillor and the Chair of the Toronto East York Community Council.

Prior to my election to Toronto City Council, I served six years as the past-President of the Toronto Chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC). The CCNC is a national non-profit organization with 27 chapters across Canada and a community leader for Chinese Canadians in promoting a more just, respectful and inclusive society.

Today, I have travelled from Toronto to extend my personal support for Bill S-238, short titled, the Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act.

As you likely know, shark “finning” is the cruel act of capturing an entire shark to remove only the fins by cutting them off with a blade and tossing the shark body generally while still alive back into the water. The finless shark unable to swim, falls to the bottom of the ocean while in agonizing pain and where it will die in a matter of days by suffocation, drowning or killed by other ocean life.

Although shark finning in domestic waters was outlawed in Canada in 1994, this cruel, wasteful and unsustainable practice is still widespread and the importation of shark fins obtained in such a manner is surprisingly not illegal. Leaving a massive legal loophole that is eagerly exploited by those who profit immensely from the legal sale and trade of shark fins and its derivative products, often times obtained illegally through uncontrolled shark finning.

Other than shark fin being the main ingredient in shark fin soup served at upscale Chinese restaurants and formal banquet dinners to show “respect” to the guests, and to allow the hosts to demonstrate their personal wealth and affluence, there are no other legitimate uses for this product. Not medicinal, nor scientific, nor educational.

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In June 2011, I proudly introduced a member motion with my colleague Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker to ban the possession, sale and consumption of shark fin and derivative products within the city limits of Toronto. This motion was presented to Toronto City Council along with a petition signed by 10,000 residents who supported the creation of this municipal ban.

Knowing that Toronto has one of the largest Chinese Canadian populations in Canada, by eliminating the consumer demand for shark fin soup, we believed that such a ban would in effect help eliminate the inhumane and irresponsible practice of “shark finning” which results in the slaughter of an estimated 100 million sharks per year.

Our member motion was successfully adopted by Toronto City Council by a vote of 38-4 and the new by-law was enacted on September 1, 2012.

Almost immediately after the motion was passed by City Council, certain opponents to the shark fin ban representing their own business interest and not the entire “Chinese community” filed a human rights complaint against the City of Toronto for creating a by-law that “discriminated” against their ethnicity and race. Their issue was quickly dismissed by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, as their main complaint was about their “profit rights” not “human rights.”

In summary, there were zero grounds for a human rights complaint, as the entire Chinese community was not discriminated against by this by-law. Case in point, not every Chinese person eats shark fin. I do not. Nor does my family. I did not serve shark fin soup at my wedding, nor did my two siblings when they got married.  

Following the dismissal of the human rights complaint, four members of the local Chinese Canadian business community filed an appeal to have the ban overturned, claiming the by-law was outside of the jurisdiction of a municipal government.

In December 2012, Justice James Spence of the Ontario Superior Court struck down our Toronto by-law, citing the “highly intrusive” by-law was outside the powers of the city and affecting “the consumption by city inhabitants, in the privacy of their residences, of food products which have not been made illegal by federal or government action.” In essence, this Ontario Justice suggested that the City of Toronto had over-reached in the writing of its by-law.

Senators, the relationship between national and subnational governments, and in particular, municipalities is one that requires us to work together. Protecting the oceans to ensure that the entire marine ecosystem is preserved is a responsibility that we all share, not only as law makers but as co-inhabitants on this planet.

Bill S-238 represents the third time, a federal Private Members Bill since 2013, was introduced to ban shark fin products in Canada. Clearly this matter is not going away anytime soon. At least not until a national ban is solidly in place.

Without a national ban, provincial politicians such British Columbia Green Party MLA Sonia Fursteneau are stepping forward to introduce a bill to prohibit the sale, distribution and possession of shark fins in that province. This follows the lead of 17 Canadian municipalities who have successfully banned the sale of shark fin products within their city limits.

Toronto City Council adopted a motion in April 2017 calling on the federal government to pass Bill S-238. Montreal City Council last week passed a similar motion supporting Bill S-238, again asking Ottawa to bring in a national shark fin ban.  

Should Bill S-238 fail to pass in Ottawa, my council colleagues and I are prepared to take this matter back to Toronto City Council and carefully re-introduce a new motion to ban shark fin in the city. We have received independent legal advice and are confident that with a reduce scope, a new by-law can be successfully introduced in Toronto and withstand any additional legal contest.

Although a revised Toronto by-law remains an option, it is my preference and the preference of my council colleagues for Ottawa to demonstrate leadership on this important issue.

Given the multitude of local issues facing municipalities, and the inefficiency of introducing local shark fin bans in a patchwork pattern of one city at a time, I believe it’s long overdue for this matter to be properly addressed by creating a federally initiated and sanctioned Canada-wide ban.

In an Environics poll, eighty-one percent of Canadians supported a ban on the trade in products of shark finning. Municipal governments and Canadians from coast to coast are looking to Ottawa to take active leadership on this issue and bring in a national shark fin ban once and for all.

There is simply no political or environmental downside to implementing a national shark fin ban.

Senators, now is the time to act. Please do not let us down. I respectfully conclude my comments here.

Thank you again for your time and your thoughtful consideration.



NOTE:

University of Guelph researchers performed DNA testing on 129 samples of shark fin and manta ray gills, an ingredient used in Chinese traditional medicine. Their specimens were purchased in Canada, China and Sri Lanka. They found that 71 per cent of the samples came from species listed at-risk in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES), including the whale shark, the largest fish in the world. It was listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union of Conservation since 2003. This research was published in the journal of Scientific Reports and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Save Our Seas Foundation, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and the Government of Canada.

Canadian custom officials faced significant challenges enforcing against illegally obtained shark fins. The fins are imported dried and separated from the carcass, smoked with sulphur or bleached with hydrogen peroxide to give them a desirable whitish colour making it virtually impossible to distinguish whether or not a fin came from an endangered species, without costly and timely DNA testing.

Canada is the largest importer of shark fins worldwide, outside of Southeast Asia. According to Statistics Canada, in 2017, Canada imported over 170,000 kg (171,734 kg) of shark fins, an increase of over 65,000 kg per year since 2012, representing a 60% increase over five years. The markup in retail pricing for shark fins is very significant and depending on its size and type, one kilogram of dried shark fin is worth approximately $805 to $1075 (Cdn).