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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.

  • oppoh

    I can’t believe this, but I actually find myself agreeing with Mammoliti. This isn’t about communism, it’s a serious possibility that could lead the city into being more of a nanny-state when it comes to food. At this rate, food trucks and carts in Toronto will be limited to those crappy ones outside of City Hall, the hot dog carts, and the special events put on by Ontario Food Trucks.

  • Melissa

    Oh please, you cannot be serious. Oppoh, your argument fundamentally lacks strength. You agree with Mammoliti and use the argument that “food trucks…will be limited to those ones outside of City Hall…” as the basis for your rationale?!? Come on, grow up & get real. Banning the sale of shark fin products HARDLY constitutes a serious impediment on our rights. We do NOT NEED to consume shark fin products but we DO NEED sharks. An act to bring light to this critical issue is hardly unconstitutional. Plus, there are all sorts of regulations protecting other species – for example, would you support the sale of products made from endangered species? Maybe you would given your position on the shark fin matter. Maybe you wouldn’t, arguing that the fundamental difference between shark fin products and products made from endangered species is that one is endangered, the other not. Well, I say that let’s not get to the point where all shark species BECOME endangered before we do something to protect them.

    The other 99 percent of us will find other things to eat.

  • Peter Nogalo

    What are they going to ban next? Panda Pudding? Won’t anyone think about our rights!

  • t

    Melissa, thank goodness for people out there who have the capacity to think beyond themselves and see the bigger picture.

    To the others, in case you hadn’t noticed, we are not the only ones inhabiting this planet and the world does not exist to serve us. We need to start acting humanely towards all forms of life, so as to preserve this planet, and our own species in the process. If that means protective measures are put in place, so be it.

    If you think our rights are being stripped away because we can’t eat one ‘luxurious’ meal that resulted from the needless suffering of another life, you seriously need to get over your gluttonous self. If you’re looking for something to complain about, spend some time in a third world country where you have next to no food and virtually no choice in what you get to eat.

  • TS

    There are other fish which are in greater danger of extinction. But what the governments are doing for those species is to set a quota for their capture (which is the correct move). They never set a law to forbid their consumption. You know why there exists a difference; shark fins are consumed by ONE ethnic group only. Come on, use some logic and be consistent and fair.

  • Foodies514

    I agree with the principle of no eating shark fins. It is more a status symbol in the Chinese community, as the nutriment you get from shark fins can easily be substitute by something more ethical with way less mercury. For those who argue that it is tradition, I will say that tradition gets modify through the ages of humanity. I don’t think anyone will die not having this soup during wedding banquet.

    However, I find this initiative by the municipality of Toronto totally useless. Banning this in Toronto simply means that Chinese people will have their banquet in the suburbs (Markham and Richmond Hill) where consumption of the shark fin is legal. Consumption will not decrease, but simply shifted. To be effective we need a provincial or federal ban. I just hate seeing my money spent on trying to re-enforce a law that is inefficient. Yes it makes more people aware of the issue… but is it worth spending so much $$ on this? Shall we not invest it in some city infrastructure in dire need?

  • Chris

    To those who think there is no issue with cutting the fins of of a shark and letting the STILL living remains sink to the bottom of the ocean enjoy you dinner. I will be having a barbecue next week and you are all invited.
    We are having deep fried kitten livers, cat paw stew, german sheppard pie and of course I can not forget the delicious labrodor retriever burgers; but, do not worry we will not use all of them. We will leave the living remains to fend for themselves. That sounds fair.

  • Baboon

    I am Chinese and believe that the harvesting is very inhumane. I don’t think is Chinese tradition either, more a flush fund for the middle-man in this business.

    However, the main point I like to stress that it is a wrong place to have the law passed, it should be a federal issue and they have the power to fix it.

    As for City Hall, the legal issues begin and we do not have the money or fundamental jurisdiction to fight this battle in court. I am not sure how many of the supporters have done their homework on the legal issues to come if this goes to court.

  • Baboon

    One more thing the supporter forgot, get the City Hall to ban fur harvested from the seal harvest in our backyard. Why not kill two birds with one stone. Is it part of our tradition?

  • TS

    If one cook does not kill a lobster in a human way we should all banned from eating lobsters? Killing animals in an inhuman way is a separate issue and should be dealt with separately. It was the same video of sharks being killed inhumanly being played over and over again. Some suspect that it was staged.

  • Rob L

    Please show your support for further shark fin bans. Go to to show your support for a shark fin ban in Markham Ontario.