Battle over GuZoo drags on before the courts

An attempt by two animal rights organizations to have a judicial review of the GuZoo’s operating permit has been complicated by the fact the zoo’s operator is now suing the government department that issued the permit.

An attempt by two animal rights organizations to have a judicial review of the GuZoo’s operating permit has been complicated by the fact the zoo’s operator is now suing the government department that issued the permit.

Voice for Animals Humane Society and Zoocheck Canada were attempting through the courts to have the zoo’s permit cancelled.

The two organizations believe GuZoo has repeatedly failed to meet minimum standards as set out in the province’s Zoo Standards.

Lynn Gustafson, the owner of the oft-criticized GuZoo Animal Farm near Three Hills, is now suing the province, alleging its zoo development plan was copied without permission.

That action has thrown a wrench into the animals rights groups’ court proceedings, according to Tove Reece, executive director for Voice for Animals, based in Edmonton.

Reece said they initially had a court date of Feb. 13 for the judicial review. But Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) lawyers indicated they could not be ready for February because of GuZoo’s statement of claim, filed on Nov. 7.

So now the judicial review is slated for Sept. 16, 2015, but GuZoo’s current zoo permit will expire before that, on March 31. Reece said it complicates things a bit, because their court fight is based on GuZoo’s current permit.

“It hinges a little bit on whether the government renews GuZoo’s licence in April. If they do, I think our argument still holds,” Reece said.

However, if GuZoo does not receive a new permit for 2015 (it must apply each year), then it becomes a moot point, said Reece, although it’s possible GuZoo could make some changes and be issued a permit afterwards.

Gustafson did not want to comment on his statement of claim against ESRD.

“It’s better not to say anything,” he said. “I’m not going to comment.”

The claim filed in Drumheller Court of Queen’s Bench starts out by stating: “The GuZoo intends to remain in operation for many years to come.”

As part of the compliance of Alberta Zoo Standards, Gustafson states he submitted a Zoo Development Plan to ESRD in 2013.

Gustafson believes the contents of his plan are strictly confidential “and highly sought after by animal rights terrorist groups.”

When he submitted the plan to ESRD, which ultimately approved them, he said he indicated the plan could not be copied, the statement of claim states.

Gustafson believes that ESRD made five copies of the plan, breaching a trust.

In the claim, he wants $5,500 for every copy for a total of $27,500, made within 20 days of the statement of claim date, and after that, until the $27,500 is paid in full, $1,000 a day in addition.

The lawsuit names the minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and four ESRD employees.

The department’s statement of defence, filed Nov. 26, denies that the plaintiff or GuZoo has ever had copyright in the development plan. “To the contrary, the defendants state that if any copyright exists … then it belongs to Her Majesty the Queen. …”

It denies “that if there was ever any trust relationship … which is expressly denied, then there has not been any breach of the trust relationship in connection with the development plan. …”

It also states that any use or copying of or dealing with the development plan is “solely for the purpose of administration or enforcement of the relevant legislation.”

The statement of defence denies the plaintiff suffered any loss or damage and asks that the claim be dismissed, with costs.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

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