Shark fin win for animal law

If you're still looking for proof that animal law is headline news in Canada or that our laws are starting to address animal protection, look no further than Ottawa.

Victoria Shroff

If you're still looking for proof that animal law is headline news in Canada or that our laws are starting to address animal protection, look no further than Ottawa. 


Canadians have had three monumental animal-law wins this June alone. The first victory was the passing of Bill S203, the Free Willy bill that banned the importation of whales and dolphins into Canada and banned the breeding of them as entertainers. That’s not to say that the whale bill win happened overnight; far from it.The second animal protection win for animals was the passing of Bill C84, which finally amends the Criminal Code sections pertaining to bestiality and animal fighting to give greater protection to animals. The third animal law win that happened on June 18, namely the historical passing of a Fisheries Act amendment that has banned shark finning and is trying to grapple with the depletion of fish in Canadian waters, the stodgy 150-year-old Fisheries Act is looking like it received a much-needed facelift.


The federal government stepped up and amended an existing piece of legislation regarding fisheries, Bill C68, that was further along in the legislative labyrinth and allowed the shark fin piece to be copied and pasted into the bill in order to get it passed with some dispatch before Parliament rose for summer break. Importantly, the amendments to the act will also honour the rights and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples.


Despite shark finning being banned in Canadian waters since 1994, the import and sale of shark fins has continued apace; therefore, a significant aspect for me as a long-time-practising animal law lawyer and educator is that the act has now finally ended the importation and exportation of shark fins in Canada. 


This is huge news for animal welfare because sharks suffer a nasty death just so that shark fins can be used for their culinary prestige. Any way you slice it, sharks die a slow and agonizing death because once their dorsal fin is hacked off to harvest the fin for food, the still-living shark is usually dumped back into the ocean to die a lingering death. Without a fin, the shark is unable to swim and sinks to the bottom of the ocean to either be easily picked off by predators or suffocate to death.


Worldwide, conservation groups estimate that more than 70 million sharks are maimed in this practice annually, including some varieties of shark that are endangered species. Canada is the number-two importer of shark fins outside of Asia, according to the United Nations.


“This is a huge victory for sharks and for the many Canadians, advocacy groups and politicians who joined together to champion the ban of this cruel practice,” says Kim Elmslie, campaign director at Oceana Canada, in a press release. “We applaud everyone’s efforts, including Senator Michael MacDonald and MP Fin Donnelly who initiated and championed the private members bill calling for a ban.” 


I agree that this is a victory for animals and animal law generally because animals are being considered for their intrinsic value, not their commodity value. I mean no offence to cultures that may relish certain foods, but there are modern alternatives that now must be considered based on the overhaul of our laws. The environmental law aspect to this legislation is that, by banning the act of “finning,” sharks, which are apex predators, will once again be allowed to flourish and to swim unfettered, thereby helping to restore biodiversity within the aquatic ecosystem.


On a municipal level, in May, Vancouver's city council passed a motion to support the federal ban on shark fin imports. According to Humane Society International, some 20 Canadian municipalities from B.C. to Ontario have banned the sale of shark fin products and several U.S. states have as well, including California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Oregon and the territory of Guam. In the past eight years, no less than five private members bills were drafted to ban shark fin imports in our Parliament, but they all failed.


I believe these recent victories demonstrate that Canadians care about animals in a way that sees their needs and their lives to be of great importance. Animals are worth fighting for. I think we're seeing a movement to strengthen animal protection in Canada.  May the momentum continue past the next election.

Victoria Shroff is one of the first and longest serving animal law practitioners in Canada. She has been practicing animal law for almost 20 years in Vancouver at Shroff & Associates and has been recognized for her work in animal law. She is also adjunct professor of animal law at UBC’s Allard Hall Law School, is frequently interviewed by media and has lectured widely on the topic. Ms. Shroff is founder of a social literacy and animal law program called 'Paws of Empathy'. You can connect with her at www.shroffanimal @shroffanimallaw , LinkedIn or

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