Fin in the News: MPs unite to oppose finning at premiere of 'Sharkwater Extinction'
Holly Lake, iPolitics, Oct. 4, 2018
October 4th, 2018 - 5:59pm
MPs unite to oppose finning at premiere of 'Sharkwater Extinction'
by: Holly Lake
Partisan politics were nowhere in sight Wednesday night at the Ottawa premiere of Sharkwater Extinction.
It's the latest movie by Canadian filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart, who died diving in the Florida Keys in January 2017 while shooting the film.
The screening was presented by Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald, NDP MP Fin Donnelly and Liberal MP Scott Simms.
As the movie gets set to hit screens across the country on Oct. 19, a push is on in the Senate to move a bill to the House of Commons that would ban the import and export of shark fins to and from Canada.
The private member's bill is sponsored by MacDonald and has support across party lines. It was introduced in April 2017 and received unanimous support at the Senate fisheriescommittee in February this year.
The bill nearly came to a vote on Wednesday night that would have pushed it along. As it stands, politics have it tied up with another bill in the Senate, originally sponsored by a Liberalsenator, that would ban whale and dolphin captivity in Canada. MacDonald is confident both will go to a vote after next week's break week.
"I'm very comfortable that my bill will pass in the Senate," he said.
"I think there will be lots of support (in the House) in the Conservative caucus and among the NDP. As for the Liberals, their previous caucus - including the prime minister, everybody who is in that caucus today - was around in the previous Parliament and all voted for the previous bill on this. So if they're not going to vote for this bill, they're going to have to explain why."
Last night, however, the front was united, with support from all political stripes, including Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, Independent Sen. Lucie Moncion, and NDP MPs Ruth Allen Brosseau, Richard Cannings and Don Davies.
"I think Canada could show some leadership on this; I think it's time," MacDonald said, adding that doing so "will trigger the same type of response in other countries."
Canada has banned the practice of shark finning since 1994. However, fins can still be imported - and demand for them has been rising. Last year, nearly 159,000 kilograms of fins were imported into this country - a 60 per cent increase over the last five years. Most came from Hong Kong and China, and were likely from finning.
Outside of East Asia, Canada is the largest importer of fins in the world.
The University of Guelph conducted DNA testing on shark fins being sold in Vancouver to determine what species they were. Of the 59 shark-fin samples collected, 76 per cent were from shark species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of vulnerable species.
As apex predators, sharks keep the ocean ecosystem in check. Without them, fish populations underneath them explode, throwing off a critical balance. Sharks also remove the weak and the sick from the ecosystem, while promoting the health of coral reefs by preying on invasive species and providing nutrients with their waste. Given that 60 to 70 per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean, keeping them healthy is a necessity. Everything on land depends on life in the ocean for its own survival. And yet, in the last 50 years, the populations of some species of shark have dropped more than 80 per cent.
"Most Canadians are reasonable people," MacDonald said. "This is a reasonable conservation measure. This is no different than the prohibition of the importation of rhinoceros horns or elephant tusks.
"This is our way of saying you can't do this in Canada. You can't slaughter animals around the world that are endangered and make money off it by shipping it here. We have to take stand on the slaughter and this is a good way to do it."
Montreal and Toronto have passed motions supporting Bill S-238 - and MacDonald noted there are a lot of Liberal MPs in both those cities.
"Hopefully, they get on board. This is a non-partisan issue and I hope they see it as such, and realize that simple, fundamental conservation is something we can do. This hurts nobody."
As for the documentary, he said it's a "very sad coincidence" that Stewart's film is coming out now without him, while the push is on in Parliament.
"If something good can come out of this tragedy that occurred with Rob, maybe this will be it.," MacDonald said. "I think people are more focused on it."
Stewart's father Brian said finishing the film after his son died has meant nearly 20 months of work with an incredible team committed to seeing Rob's vision brought to life on the screen. It's an experience he said felt amazing, but also "bittersweet."
"We saw Rob on-screen every day, bigger than life, as he always was. Then the screen goes dark and he's not coming home. It's very tough."
His mother Sandy said the finished product is "absolutely beautiful."
"It's back to exactly the style of his other movies. Rob wanted you to share the journey with him. He would take you on his adventure, where you discover and learn things. That's what the movie does."
They've been supporting MacDonald, and appeared before the Senate fisheries committee in January - on the eve of the anniversary of Rob's death - to speak in support of Bill S-238.
They want to see the import and export of fins banned, but beyond that, they're pushing for a "shark-free" movement.
"The next step is getting shark out of products, and protecting the species that need to survive," Brian Stewart said. "We can't devastate oceans the way we've been doing. The reality is they're critically important to the balance of our ecosystem and the air that we breathe."
Sharkwater Extinction is a follow-up to the 2006 documentary Sharkwater, which won more than 40 awards at festivals around the world and brought awareness to the practice of shark finning.
It highlighted how, despite surviving the Earth's five mass extinctions, human greed could easily wipe sharks out within a few years.
The film started a global conversation, and some shark-research organizations have credited it with saving millions of sharks worldwide, Sandy said.
Sharkwater Extinction builds on that message, and looks at how illegal overfishing of sharks across the planet has deeper consequences and threatens the collapse of the ocean ecosystem.
"We hope that people will start looking at their daily lives, and realize that shark could be in a number of products they consume or give their pets. And hopefully, they'll start asking questions abut where stuff is coming from," Stewart said, noting many products contain shark, but it's not indicated on the label.
"It's not just about about finning; it's about shark turning up in cosmetics, in pet food, in fertilizer, in fish pellets and livestock feed. I mean, chickens are eating shark. How does this even remotely make sense?"
Still, Stewart is optimistic about the future.
"Quite honestly, if we can get the momentum, if we can get people out to see this film, we have a great chance to get public support," he said.
"Then, this bill is going to fly."