An Alberta judge has dismissed a legal challenge brought against the City of Edmonton by PETA and Zoocheck Canada that asked the court to declare Lucy, the Valley Zoo's Asian elephant, an animal in distress.
In a ruling released Friday, Associate Chief Justice John Rooke of Alberta Court of Queen's Bench called the originating notice by the animal rights groups "an abuse of process".
The proper legal channel by which to address the issue was for the groups to take their complaints to local peace officers, he wrote.
"There is a possible caveat: if the public officers charged with responsibility under the legislation do not meet that duty, the jurisdiction of the court might be invoked to seek relief through a judicial review application for mandamus [a court order] or an application for mandatory injunctive relief [an injunction]."
An originating notice filed earlier this year alleged the 35-year-old Asian elephant had been suffering from a number of illnesses and had been under distress "caused or permitted by the City of Edmonton."
The applicants sought a declaration that the city was violating Alberta's Animal Protection Act.
Animal rights groups vow to keep fighting
"The city is obviously very pleased by today's ruling and our position from the outset has been that the Edmonton Valley Zoo is in compliance with all applicable regulatory and legislative standards and strives to exceed them," city lawyer Stephen Phipps said.
The city has always taken the position that any complaints about Lucy's condition should be made to regulatory authorities, he added.
"What the applicants tried to do here was to shortcut that entire process and simply proceed by a civil process and to eliminate any sort of investigation into Lucy's actual care."
But one of the groups behind the lawsuit vows the fight to move Lucy from the zoo will not end.
"The judge is saying, you need to compel these people to do their jobs, not come into the court and ask me to do it in this way," said the president and founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk by phone from Washington, D.C.
"We are worried that, of course, nothing good will be done for her and it will be too late but we will be re-grouping, our attorneys are getting together, there will be more action coming. This is a technical setback."
Newkirk said the groups filed the legal action because they couldn't get officials to investigate their complaints.
But Phipps said a letter was sent to the Edmonton Humane Society by one of these groups several years ago requesting that Lucy be relocated. A review was carried out and nothing was found to be wrong.
"It was more of situation that [the animal rights groups] disagreed with the conclusions that were arrived at by these officers rather than the officers did nothing," Phipps said.
The legal action was the latest step in the long battle between the city and animal rights groups over Lucy. High-profile lawyer Clayton Ruby represented the animal rights groups in the lawsuit.
The animal rights groups want the city to move Lucy to one of two elephant sanctuaries in the United States.