A Superior Court Justice has overturned a city-instituted bylaw banning the sale, possession or consumption of shark fins in Toronto.

In a 23-page ruling issued Nov. 30, Justice James Spence declared that the city stepped outside its authority in instituting the ban.

“The By-law is highly intrusive,” Spence wrote in his decision. “It affects the consumption by City inhabitants in the privacy of their residences of food products which have not been made illegal by federal or government action.”

Spence also concluded “it is reasonable to expect that the By-law will have a detrimental effect upon the business activities of restaurant operators in the Chinese community.”

Council voted 38-4 to ban the sale of shark fins last year. Similar bans have been enacted in other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world in recent years, spurred on by animal activists who maintain the practice of obtaining the fins is cruel and further endangers animals whose numbers are already dwindling. Opponents of shark fin bans argue the fins are culturally significant, as they are used in Chinese dishes that are served on special occasions.

But Councillor Krystan Wong-Tam, a vocal proponent of the ban and a member of the Chinese Canadian community, told cp24.com that the use of shark fins in special dishes is not universally adopted in the Chinese community.

“I would say as a member if the Chinese community whose father was a chef, we are not a monolithic community and there’s a big difference between cultural practice and consumer habits,” Wong-Tam said.

On the judge’s ruling that the city stepped outside its authority, Wong-Tam cited smoking bans as an example of an instance where the city has imposed restrictions on items that are technically controlled by other levels of government.

“The regulation of tobacco and cigarettes is clearly within federal purview, but that does not stop the city from saying ‘you cannot smoke in these places,’ which is what I think we were trying to do,” Wong-Tam said.

She said the city obtained independent legal advice prior to instituting the by-law and added the city solicitor is reviewing the ruling to decide whether to recommend an appeal.

Animal Justice Canada, an animal rights group advocating shark fin bans, released a statement Saturday urging the city to appeal the ruling.

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