Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Internal email reveals Vancouver Park Board fretted about its missing goats

February 14, 2012 Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun

The story about the Vancouver Park Board’s missing goats has sucked up a lot of oxygen in the last few days. So much so that some interesting stories at City Hall have not received their due attention. I’ll get to those in due course, but here’s a bit of inside baseball about just how worried the park board was that our story could damage its reputation.

I received a copy of an email the park board sent to its commissioners last week mere hours after I began asking questions about the possibility that most of the goats the city gave Langley hobby farmer Trevor French had been sent to auction. That internal email was also circulated widely to city staff and Mayor Gregor Robertson and council by City Manager Penny Ballem.

The fact every municipal politician in the city was apparently given the heads up I was working on this story may account for why the park board jumped ahead of our story on Sunday, issuing their own limited statement and then putting out a “media availability” with park board chairwoman Constance Barnes and general manager Malcolm Bromley. This all took place even before all the facts of the story had been known, as we eventually published on Monday.

But you’ll see from the park board memo that they had enough information on Thursday to take the action they finally did on Sunday. (That was the ordering of the removal of Tryka, the last remaining petting zoo goat at French’s property.)

Ironically, the media availability took place even before the full elected park board had a meeting to hear details of the apparent breach of the adoption contract or the park board’s plan to retrieve the goat.

I suppose it’s shame on us at The Vancouver Sun for not jamming the story into the paper on Saturday, before the park board could try and head off any criticism of its closure of the petting zoo. But we’d told them we would hold the story for Monday’s paper because our Saturday edition was celebrating our 100th anniversary.  They agreed to hang fire until after the story was out on Monday.

Silly me. I don’t suppose I or the editors at The Sun will again be so naive as to share that kind of publication plan with people we’re writing about. Or hang back on publication of an important story. But I also don’t think I can blame the park board for realizing that they had to look like they were doing something. Not that it changed public opinion, it seems. Here’s the city memo, minus personal contact information.

From: Ballem, Penny
Sent: Thursday, February 09, 2012 10:12 PM
To: Barnes, Constance; Affleck, George; Ball, Elizabeth; Carr, Adriane; Deal, Heather; Jang, Kerry; Louie, Raymond; Meggs, Geoff; Reimer, Andrea; Robertson, G; Stevenson, Tim; Tang, Tony
Cc: Welman, Mairi; Stewart, Wendy; Bromley, Malcolm; Connell, Francie; Coulson, Marg; MacKenzie, Janice
Subject: FW: Media story on Farmyard

Dear Mayor and Council: I am writing to advise you that there will be some media in regard to issues related to the transfer of animals by the Park Board on the closure of the Children’s Farmyard in 2011. Malcolm Bromley has been overseeing this issue and working with the Commissioners. You may receive calls and this note from Joyce Courtney was circulated to the Park Board. Commissioner Barnes is handling the media pb

Penny Ballem


We wanted to give you a heads up about a story that will likely run in tomorrow’s Vancouver Sun.  Reporter Jeff Lee has let us know that he is writing on information from an anonymous source that most of a group of former Stanley Park Children’s Farmyard animals (18 goats and 4 sheep) were no longer at their adoptive home, in fact they had been sent for sale to the auction house.

His research led to the adopter’s farm where he confirmed with the owner that all but four of the animals were gone – sold and/or given away.

The reporter further claimed that although the owner denied sending any animals to auction, he did confirm he ran a business providing animals for pet food. Obviously, if these allegations are true they are devastating; we are very concerned and are following up immediately.

A thorough process was carried out by Park Board staff in early 2011 to ensure that all the 100 Farmyard animals went to safe and secure homes after the facility closed. This due diligence included screening of prospective adopters, reference checks, site inspections and signing of formal Adoption Agreements by the 13 adoptive families that took animals into their care. Any changes to the living conditions of the animals, without Park Board approval, would be in contravention of the Adoption Agreement.

Ken Maguire, Supervisor of Revenue Services visited the site in question today, met with the adopter and asked for a statement covering what has happened and a listing of the other homes the animals had reportedly been given to.
We are seeking advice from City Legal on recourse as to violations of the agreement; if any are proven, we will take swift and decisive action.

We are also connecting with the SPCA as to the range of options available to us for the remaining Stanley Park animals in the care of the adopter.

A follow up with all of the other 12 adopting families will be carried out again (one was done in April 2011) to verify the condition of the animals and compliance with the Adoption Agreement.

Please contact me if you have any questions.  We will keep you posted with further information as it becomes available.

Joyce Courtney, APR
Communications Manager
Vancouver Park Board

Comment: The worst fears for some of the former petting zoo residents have been realized. Not only had farmyard staff expressed concerns about the relocation of the animals, so too had local animal advocates. It’s utterly scandalous that the Park Board proceeded so quickly in having them rehomed. How many follow-up checks have been carried out since? Maybe one. Since the considerable public outrage, Constance Barnes, Park Board Chair, has insisted that appropriate checks were made and that the adoption contract had strict conditions. We have copies of the application and the adoption form, so what went so wrong? The board’s legal team is pursuing a breach of contract suit against French. “He needs to be held accountable,” said Barnes. “This is almost as bad as the Whistler sled dogs.” (Vancouver Courier 02/14/12) Agreed, but whatever the legal consequences, there won’t be adequate justice and the ethical and social issues will go unaddressed.

This issue is deeply concerning and we urge everyone to write to the City, the Park Board, and the media on this outrageous and heartbreaking issue. There must be accountability and some sort of justice for the goats.

Read more: Background: Stanley Park's petting-zoo goats are missing, sent to Fraser Valley Auction, may have been slaughtered

Petting zoos; E.coli; risky & outdated, Stanley Park farmyard closes; Park Board goat case, FVA; Dolittle probe, Maple Ridge