Court holds exclusion of Australian to be racial discrimination
TOKYO, Japan––The Wakayama District Court, of Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, on March 25, 2016 ordered the coastal whaling town of Taiji to pay Australia for Dolphins founder Sarah Lucas 110,000 yen ($907 U.S.) in damages for illegally barring her from the Taiji Whale Museum.
While the cash award was not large, the outcome was of both precedental and symbolic significance.
The verdict came in a highly politicized situation, in a nation where the courts have historically been unsympathetic toward activism, especially when the activists are non-Japanese.
Scene of The Cove
Taiji, the hub of the Japanese coastal industry, was featured in the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, directed by Louis Psihoyos, starring Ric O’Barry, founder of Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project.
The Taiji Whale Museum, which is more an aquarium than a museum in the usual sense of the word, at any given time houses as many as 40 dolphins.
Captured at the infamous killing cove, for which the film The Cove is named, the dolphins are offered for sale to oceanariums and swim-with-dolphins facilities around the world. The dolphin sales are believed to be many times more lucrative for Taiji and the dolphin slaughter participants than is the sale of dolphin meat.
Activist & father excluded
“Lucas, 31, had sought around 3.3 million yen in compensation,” reported Japan Times, “claiming the town’s actions constituted unjust discrimination and an obstruction of freedom of thought and conscience.
“According to the suit,” Japan Times summarized, “the museum turned away Lucas and her late father, Alastair, in February 2014, citing a written notice saying people opposed to whaling cannot enter the facility. The pair were wearing clothes bearing the Australia for Dolphins logo.
“When they persisted,” Japan Times continued, “asking about the entrance fee and trying to photograph the notice with smartphones, museum staff covered up the notice and gestured at them not to photograph it.”
Sarah Lucas, who started Australia for Dolphins in 2012, contended that the Taiji Whale Museum regularly refuses entry to foreign nationals. She filed her lawsuit in May 2014.
“Alastair Lucas was also listed as a plaintiff in the suit,” Japan Times said, “but has since died.”
Chair of the investment banking division at Goldman Sachs Australia, Alistair Lucas was also founding chair of the $20 billion (Australian) Medical Research Future Fund Action Group. He died on July 6, 2015 from a brain tumor.
In addition to supporting Australia for Dolphins, Lucas “was involved with animal welfare through the Jane Goodall Institute, the Lort Smith Animal Hospital and Animals Australia,” reported Chris Pash of Business Insider Australia.
Museum said it wanted to avoid trouble
Recounted Japan Times, “The town called for the suit to be dismissed, arguing that Lucas had visited the museum four days before she was refused entry, and shot footage inside the facility with large camera equipment without authorization. The museum’s barring of Lucas was not intended as discrimination against foreign nationals but to avoid further trouble, the town claimed.”
Blogged Sarah Lucas on November 6, 2015, after visiting Japan to testify in the case, “The Taiji Whale Museum, the government-owned institution at the heart of Taiji’s dolphin trade, had recently purchased Angel,” an albino dolphin, “and had her on display as a ‘freak show.’
“No anti-whalers allowed”
“I went to the ticket office of the museum and asked the ticket officer if I could please buy a ticket,” Sarah Lucas continued. “The ticket officer shook her head violently, and produced a laminated sign stating that ‘No anti-whalers are allowed to enter the Museum.’ I was shocked, but said “thank you” and walked away. I later found out that many other foreigners were also automatically shown this sign and denied entrance to the Museum.
“Our Japanese lawyers argued in court,” Lucas said, “that the Museum’s policy of rejecting foreigners, purely on the basis of their appearance, is unlawful under Japan’s Constitution, which protects all people from discrimination based on race or belief. Our lawyers – who include a highly-respected Japanese legal professor and a former judge – did a superb job.”
“A sign of hope”
Of the outcome, Sarah Lucas said, “The decision shows that Japanese law can be used to stop animal suffering. This is not just good news for Angel, but a sign of hope for the thousands of dolphins brutally slaughtered in Taiji every year.”
As the case involved human rather than animal rights, and did not in any way directly affect the activities of the Taiji Whale Museum, or of the treatment of the dolphins the museum keeps, Sarah Lucas’ interpretation of the meaning of the court decision in her favor might be termed, in legal parlance, “overbroad.”
Open to scrutiny
But as Lucas remarked in her November 2015 blog, “If we win this case, it will ensure that the Museum is permanently open to all animal welfare observers. If Angel’s terrible conditions are hidden behind closed doors, we can’t help her. But if the Museum is open to the light of public scrutiny, there is a much greater chance that our efforts to release her to a humane ocean pen will be successful.”
Affirmed O’Barry, to ANIMALS 24-7, “The suit was about discrimination. Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project has had a team on the ground in Taiji every day during the dolphin killing season. We monitor Angel regularly. The lawsuit allowed our team to get back into the Taiji Whale Museum the same day the suit was filed. So the suit was helping immediately. It allowed westerners back into the museum.
O’Barry plans lawsuits
“I have the same lawyer,” O’Barry continued. “He will be filing two lawsuits against the Japanese government for Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project. One for my false arrest in August 2015, and the other for deporting me on bogus charges” in February 2016, after O’Barry was held for 19 days at the Narita Airport, near Tokyo.”
O’Barry’s August 2015 arrest aroused the international “hacktivist” group Anonymous. Anonymous in September, October, and November 2015 claimed responsibility for an ensuing series of “denial of service” attacks on Japan Whaling Association and Taiji Whale Museum communications.
Expelled from JAZA
Meanwhile, the Taiji Whale Museum was on September 8, 2015 expelled from the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) for ignoring a directive to stop buying dolphins from the coastal hunters.
JAZA, in turn, had been threatened with expulsion from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums for failing to stop the capture of dolphins from the wild, after dolphin advocates had pressured WAZA for decades.
“A ballot among 152 JAZA members revealed that 99 were in favor of staying with WAZA and 43 against,” reported Japan Times. “Only one, however,” the Taiji Whale Museum, “vowed to actively continue” buying dolphins from the hunters.