For Toronto city councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, it all started with a film called Sharkwater. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart, the 2006 documentary exposed the illegal world of shark hunting, churning out images that both riveted and revolted the Scarborough Centre councillor.
“I didn’t know what I could do, but I was just horrified by the killing I had seen,” De Baeremaeker recalled. “I thought if I ever had a chance to do something, I’m going to do it, because this is just evil.”
That chance finally came this past May, when the City of Brantford voted unanimously to prohibit the sale and consumption of shark fins. Taking inspiration, in June De Baeremaeker began pushing legislation that would see Toronto follow suit.
After only five months, the motion to ban shark fins in Toronto passed this Tuesday with a vote of 38-4. Mayor Rob Ford was one of the few who abstained.
“I was thrilled with how passionate all the councillors were,” De Baeremaeker said. “Every part of the political spectrum came together in the Toronto council chambers and said, ‘This is a cruel and barbaric practice, and we’re going to do what we can to stop it.’ It was really an amazing thing to watch.”
Environmentalists estimate as many as 70 million sharks of all different species are killed each year, inhumanely finned, skinned and tossed back into oceanic waters only to suffocate or be eaten alive by other marine life. The end result is a small, expensive bowl of shark fin soup—a delicacy in Chinese culture.
“It is hard to put a stop to finning as long as there is a market for the product,” John Parker, Toronto city councillor of Don Valley West and strong supporter of the motion, said. “Conversely, we can expect finning to cease if jurisdictions around the world cease consuming fins.”
However, Toronto deputy mayor Doug Holyday voted against the motion, arguing such a measure would be too difficult to enforce.
“You can’t go into someone’s house and see what soup they’re eating. It’s not enforceable,” he stated.
Holyday wasn’t the only one against the motion. In an open letter to city council sent prior to the vote, the Toronto Chinese Business Association outlined their belief the cause was more emotional than environmental.
“It is not an issue of business or culture—everyone can live without a shark fin,” Barbara Chiu, executive director of the TCBA, explained. “We are against the ban because it is an unfair and irresponsible act.”
Chiu cited the fact shark meat, liver and oil are still available across Canada. Furthermore, with a fine of $5,000, she argued the penalty was heavier than that for drug possession.
But, according to De Baeremaeker, with the exception of the TCBA and some retailers, most of Toronto’s Chinese community seemed to be behind the ban set to be enforced on September 1, 2012.
“When I go to the grocery store, I’m being stopped by people I don’t know—self-identifying as Chinese Canadian—who say, ‘I support this ban and I’m Chinese,’” De Baeremaeker stated.
In light of his victory, De Baeremaker said the next year will be spent making sure the ban on shark fins goes Canada-wide, and hopefully planet-wide.
“We live in a global village now, and if you eat a bowl of shark fin soup—whether that be in London or Toronto—you’re contributing to the mass slaughter of sharks in an evil and barbaric way. I’m hoping our nation will be a leader in the fight to save sharks.”