Animal law group debuts at Western

Animal law group debuts at Western
Professor Peter Sankoff, posing with pigs in New Zealand, is an animal law advocate.
Pigs have rights too.
And law students at the University of Western Ontario will advocate those rights — along with the rights of all other animals — through its newly formed animal law group.

The law school has partnered with the non-profit organization Animal Legal Defense Fund to create the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at Western.

Third-year law student Teri Muszak, who is president of the group, started the chapter after she took an animal law course taught by visiting professor Peter Sankoff last year. “After that, I realized how closely animal law relates to environmental public interest concerns but had much fewer governing regulations in place,” she told Canadian Lawyer 4Students in an e-mail.

Sankoff joined Western law’s faculty as an associate professor this summer. Considered an expert in the field of animal law, he plans to speak at events hosted by the group and eventually add an animal law course to the school’s regular curriculum.

Having previously taught at the University of Auckland Faculty of Law in New Zealand, he became interested in animal law when a group was established at the school.

The public has also shown a greater interest in animal law through increased media coverage on the issues, especially with consumers’ food product concerns. But it’s only recently that society started questioning what’s acceptable in terms of how animals are treated.

“The law in Canada regulating the treatment of animals is . . . behind where other countries have gone,” says Sankoff. “There has not been enough sustained critique of the way in which animal law exists in Canada.”

This critique can partly come from lawyers, who have a large role to play in the development of animal law. “As lawyers start to look at the issues . . . they’ll notice a lot of inconsistency in the way the law actually works.”

It’s time for lawyers to dispel the misconception that “it’s only law about animals and that’s not important,” adds Sankoff. “We need to get past that and start recognizing that these laws do have significant impact on beings who feel and suffer every day of their lives.”

“This isn’t just a social movement,” he notes. “Anybody who takes an animal law course quickly comes to realize that there’s something wrong with the way in which we legally regulate animals.”

He’s often seen this happen in the animal law courses he’s taught around the world. “[A]s soon as students see the injustice, they want to do something about it.” Which is exactly what happened to Muszak.

“The way that humans interact with other species has a profound impact on society in general,” she said. “Callousness and indifference to cruelty of any living thing should not be tolerated.”

Her goal for the new student group is to bring greater awareness to animal law issues and provide access to information about human interactions with animals.

Students are already having a significant effect on this area of law. “Student groups across the country have really helped in getting animal law moving forward,” says Sankoff.

“They’ve really helped to bring seminars, to bring attention, to lobby for animal law courses, to convince people who might otherwise be reluctant that animal law is a worthwhile area of study and it is something that we need to look at more closely.”

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