British Columbia

Vancouver Aquarium sues filmmaker over critical documentary

The Vancouver Aquarium is suing the maker of a critical documentary for alleged copyright violation. In a B.C. Supreme Court notice of civil claim, the aquarium is seeking an injunction to remove 'Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered' from YouTube and Vimeo.

Lawsuit seeks injunction against 'Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered' for alleged copyright violation

Gary Charbonneau's documentary revisits a debate which erupted in Vancouver over the practice of breeding cetaceans in captivity. (The Associated Press)

The Vancouver Aquarium is suing the maker of a critical documentary for alleged copyright violation.

In a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court, the aquarium is seeking an injunction to remove Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered from YouTube, Vimeo and a website set up to stream the hour-long film.

'Truth needs to be told'

The documentary raises questions about keeping and breeding cetaceans in captivity.

According to the lawsuit, the aquarium claims filmmaker Gary Charbonneau's movie relies on photographs and video taken from the organization's website and blog.

The aquarium also claims Charbonneau violated the terms of a contract he signed to film on the aquarium grounds in April 2015. The lawsuit claims he is prohibited from using the footage to raise money on a crowdfunding website.

In addition to an injunction, the aquarium is also seeking punitive damages.

Charbonneau, 48, says he has little in the way of funds to mount a legal defence. He said he decided to make the film after attending a public hearing on breeding whales in captivity.

He said he has no plans to pull the movie down.

"I think the truth needs to be told," he said. "We're just going to go where this things takes us."

He said he would consult with legal counsel, but was confident that his right to use footage taken from the aquarium's website would be covered under copyright laws.

A ban on breeding

Charbonneau's documentary revisits a very public debate that divided Vancouverites in 2014, when the outgoing Vision park board imposed a whale breeding ban on the aquarium.

That decision resulted in a B.C. Supreme Court challenge, but the ban was lifted by a new NPA-led board before the case could be heard.

Since 1996, the board and the aquarium have agreed not to keep wild-caught whales and dolphins except for those that were rehabilitated and could not be released. But the breeding of captive animals is still allowed.

The issue has received international attention with the success of another critical movie: Blackfish.

Charbonneau's film cites a 2012 addendum to an unsuccessful application the Georgia Aquarium in the U.S. made to import 18 belugas whales captured off the coast of Russia.

The document says the Vancouver Aquarium was one of five North American facilities which met to "consider the best social groupings for the whales subject to the permit application."

In an extensive blog posting last month, the aquarium refuted Charbonneau's allegations, saying he ignored the facts they provided and "manipulated the truth".

The aquarium says they made it clear to the Georgia Aquarium that they would not "participate in any aspect" of the import of belugas. 

"This video is not a documentary, as it's not grounded in truth," the blog posting says.

Last summer, a bill was tabled in the Senate that would phase out the captivity of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Canada. 

The move came after Ontario became the first province in Canada to ban the buying, selling or breeding of orcas.

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