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Toronto's Shark Fin Ban - An Insider's Perspective

By Rob Sinclair, Executive Director, WildAid Canada

In the whirl of cheers, camera lights and microphones that followed Toronto Council’s 38 to 4 vote to ban the sale and possession of shark fin products; it became all too easy to forget the months of challenge that preceded it.

The closing of Canada’s largest market for shark fin traces its roots to the shores of Hawaii where a ban was signed into law in May. WildAid Canada had been thinking about possible options yet there was a problem. The legislative calendar was full with the federal government and seven of ten provinces in, or about to be in, an election. Municipal bans seemed the way to go but officials in major cites were still worried about a possible backlash.

WildAid consultant Phil Gillies suggested his hometown of Brantford. Staffer Audrey Bankley researched every aspect of the shark fin trade in small town Ontario and we were off.

Within weeks, Brantford had passed a ban and reporters came to the WildAid office asking what was next. One asked about possible allies in Toronto and I suggested Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker. To our amazement, he not only was supportive but also promised to lead the charge. By the time of the first media conference, he was joined by Council members from the left like Kristen Wong-Tam and the right like John Parker. Victory seemed a given. Yet, the road was still a rocky one.

Powerful forces tried on several occasions to block the ban as beyond the power of a city. Late night meetings in the Mayors Office and Committee Room kept the ban moving forward. By the time the last of over one hundred deputations had been heard, one thing was clear: there was a strong willingness to do the right thing and send a strong message. People ranging from age seven to seventy spoke passionately about the need for a ban. Councillors dipped into their office budgets to pay for legal opinions and brochures.

However, efforts to stop the ban also gained strength. A full-page ad appeared in the Star newspaper, two hundred protestors gathered on the square in front of city hall and even the Mayor came out against us.

Yet the die was cast. Thousands of petitions were tabled and speaker after speaker rose to speak for the need for action. When the vote was taken, the audience rose to its feet and the media thronged around a clutch of Councillors embracing on the floor.

Councillor De Baeremaeker looked at me, smiled, and asked, “OK, what’s next?”