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Toronto bans shark fin products; sharks everywhere rejoice

This photo has not been digitally altered (Image: John Michael McGrath)

Yesterday city council voted in favour of banning the sale of shark fin products within the limits of Toronto. The proposal passed easily, with a vote of 38 to 4, despite a warning from the city staff that Toronto may have difficulties not only enforcing the bylaw but also dealing with citizens who feel the city is intruding on their rights and freedoms. Several councillors made impassioned speeches on both sides of the issue, but our favourite moment of the meeting came long before the shark fin debate even began, when Glenn De Baeremaeker, ever the council chamber prop master, released an inflatable shark balloon into the air.

The opposition to the bylaw was mostly technical: Councillor Chin Lee argued that the federal government should determine which species of shark should be illegal to eat and trade, while Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday expressed concern that enforcing this bylaw would drain city tax dollars. Both councillors proposed amendments to the original shark fin proposal—Lee that shark fin products be allowed in the city for educational or scientific purposes, and Holyday that the term “illegal” be added to the bylaw—without success. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti was most adamantly against the ban, fearing council “would open the flood gates or set a precedent…[for] stopping people from eating what they really want to eat.” Communism was invoked.

The support for the bill was rather more idealistic. Josh Matlow told council, “I’ve always believed in the principle that our society is judged by how we treat our animals,” while Mike Del Grande felt the proposal was “indicative of the kind of world that we want, or should have…[versus] the kind of world where we only think about ourselves.” De Baeremaeker reminded council that they were not, in fact, voting to ban soup, but instead were being given a chance to affect global environmental policy: “Actions that we take inside the city of Toronto have impact outside of the city of Toronto,” he told council. But it was Kristyn Wong-Tam who had the last word on the matter: “The consumption of shark fin is not cultural. It’s the consumption of a luxury food product.” While the sharks carried the day, we predict an uptick in the banquet business up in Markham in about a year’s time when the restriction comes into force.