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The Meat of the Shark Fin Debate

As Toronto Re-Writes Shark Fin Ban, Calgary City Council Debate Continues

by Matt Hanson

Youth Represent Shark Fin Free Calgary at City Council Debate
Youth Represent Shark Fin Free Calgary at City Council Debate
Chinese and Shark Fin Free Communities at odds in City Council Debate
Chinese and Shark Fin Free Communities at odds in City Council Debate
C.T.A.G. Chinese Community Opposition to Calgary Shark Fin Ban Poster
C.T.A.G. Chinese Community Opposition to Calgary Shark Fin Ban Poster


The challenge to the Toronto shark fin ban, posed by Chinese community leadership known as Fair and Responsible Governance Alliance, has now led the most eager Toronto city council proponents of the shark fin ban to a re-write. The long-awaited final decision on whether to appeal the Ontario Supreme Court ruling is again postponed. Calgary is undergoing a similar process of referral, where the fulcrum of judgment is based on sensitivity to Chinese community.

Is the Chinese community truly the “most deeply impacted” as Calgary Alderman McLeod said in the recent city council debate? Documentary filmmaker Rob Stewart, whose new film Revolution opens April 12 nationwide, is one of the most successful public educators on the topic of shark conservation. He calls for a different change in consciousness.

For the scientific community, and other public advocates as deeply involved in the issue as Rob Stewart, the issue of shark extinction ultimately transcends respect for particular ethnic or cultural values. This is ultimately an issue about human values, and the fragility of human life on Earth. “In the past the people affected by a destructive culture were the ones who moved to resolve it, for slavery it was the blacks, for women’s suffrage it was women. Now, youth are facing the greatest social challenge… We are eating their future,” Rob Stewart told The Media Co-op.    

Read the following excerpt from the January 28 Calgary city council meeting wherein the Calgary shark fin ban debate ended in a referral, pending future knowledge of the progress from Toronto. Who will take leadership, if not our leaders?


Alderman Gael McLeod

I too have talked to a lot people in the Chinese community specifically about this, because I think it’s the Chinese community that is most deeply impacted. I found the same thing, there is agreement that this practice is terrible and that at this point there are no sustainable practices, or no common understanding, no sustainable practices. Maybe some day we will have that. What I’m hearing is that this goes to the values and traditions, to the core of culture of how we define ourselves. And as I understand it, in the Chinese community this is a core issue. It’s not to say that this can’t change. Cultural change, our beliefs and values are not something that will change overnight. And I think we need to be very sensitive of this. So I am supportive of the referral. I hope, and it is my hope that we can come to some agreement on what we can do that is meaningful and will provide leadership on changes required by other orders of government and perhaps the international community.


Alderman Gian-Carlo Carra

I’m going to make three points. The first one, I think, is just to sort of reveal my personal bias. I spent my youth growing up in New York City and coming out here in the summers. For about eight years we were able to take the train across, and as a kid, taking the train across this country, looking at the vast, open, Great Plains of this country, I was emotionally sort of distraught of the idea that we had just wiped out the teeming buffalo herds that had wandered this land.

And as I had sort of pursued my studies and did a history degree, I’ve always been sort of deeply disturbed by the combination of deliberateness and obliviousness by which we practically extincted this species. And what we’re talking about now, and I remember thinking, well at least as a culture, as a civilization, we’ve grown up.

In reality, right now, as we speak, we are engaged, as a culture and as a civilization, in extinction-level practices that are far more reaching than wiping out buffalo herds on the prairie. We are wiping out our fisheries, and an apex predator like sharks has massive repercussion to the eco-system. And this is something we are doing right now.

We can look back on the mistakes of the past with a sense of superiority but the fact is we are doing that right now. Now, I’m deeply sensitive, as someone who has a history degree, to the issue that Alderman McLeod raised about sensitivity to Chinese culture, and to Chinese-Canadians and Chinese-Calgarians. And the reality is that the Chinese community historically has been sore done by, tremendously in our city’s history and our country’s history.

When I look at the James Short school site, which is the major park on the edge of Chinatown, James Short was the superintendent of the school board who fought tooth and nail that Chinatown where it currently sits, should not be moved from there for blatantly racist reasons. And here is a park dedicated to him right on the edge of Chinatown.

There are tremendous wrongs in our history that have to be righted, and so I’m extremely sensitive to the idea that we don’t want to be heavy-handed in our treatment of the Chinese community. On the other hand though, I think history will be the ultimate judge of the ultimate success of the different projects of civilization that are currently in play in the world today.

And I think there are distinctions between Western culture and Chinese culture that are significant. And the reality is that one of the strengths of Chinese civilization, the project of Chinese civilization, the incredibly successful Chinese project of civilization, is it’s ability to make sweeping and substantial changes very quickly, and that is the history of China.

So, I think the reality is that successful cultures adapt and change, and often adapt and change quickly. And it’s undeniable the Chinese culture is successful. So, cultures adapt and change, extinction is forever.

And, I agree with Alderman Stevenson’s point that we are sort of skating on the edge of what we are able to do as a municipality here. What we are contemplating here with this bylaw is a symbol. And it’s a symbol that we will only erode if we continually sort of backtrack on it.

This is the right thing to do. Everyone knows it’s the right thing to do. I do not think this is about furthering historical wrongs against a very strong and important component of pluralism that is Calgary’s society. I think this just the right thing to do. And it’s about sending a message to the international community. We’ve got all these cameras here today, not because we are thinking about establishing a Task Force, because we are thinking about an action and a decision that we need to make and for that reason I will not support this referral. I will support second and third reading, and I think that’s the right thing to do.


Read my article, "Bans Work" published by The Dominion on February 15

Please note recommended changes to The Dominion article (submitted by Shark Fin Free Calgary)


Shark Fin Free Calgary (SFFC) did draft two petitions; BUT NOT the federal import ban - that one is MP Fin Donnelly's petition that we are circulating for him. SFFC drafted the Calgary petition calling for a municipal by-law to ban Shark Fin in Calgary (the one that gathered over 11,000 signatures) and a second petition to amend Canadian Fishing regulations.SFFC gathered over 11,000 real ink on paper signatures on our petition via our outreach efforts.

I [Ingrid Kuenzel] am a "board member" of SFFC and prefer to be referred to as that (We are all just board members, no one is credited with any other titles as we are a unified team.  We all had great ideas and came together to create positive change.)

Finally the last line is missing a few key words and the quote should read "Two thirds of the world is covered by oceans and the other third with countries that cannot afford to effectively police them" You can also find this quote on our home page 





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