2020 has been a good year for animal law

Access to justice for animals is gaining momentum through legislation such as the Jane Goodall Act

Victoria Shroff

In 2019 I asked a question in these pages: Is it time for animal rights in Canada? The answer has been delivered in the form of a ground-breaking animal law bill put forward in November by Senator Murray Sinclair.

Bill S-218, the Jane Goodall Act, is a federal bill taking aim at the protection of great apes, elephants and other animals in captivity. It will also ban the importation of elephant ivory and hunting trophies into Canada, and make it unlawful to use captive cetaceans as entertainers.

The proposed new law is an outcropping of what was laid down in 2019 with the “Free Willy” bill, S-203, which banned the keeping and breeding of whales, porpoises and dolphins in captivity. Minor exceptions are in the enactment for rehabilitation, rescue or licenced research, or if it is in the best interests of the cetacean's welfare. The aim of Bill S-218 is to ban new apes and elephants from entering into a life of captivity unless it is in their “best interests,” acknowledging that animals have inherent rights.

Other key provisions of the act include establishing limited legal standing for the protection of animals. Courts would be able to pronounce orders to improve an animal’s living conditions or have them moved to a better living situation. Government would be empowered to extend provisions to big cats held in captivity, including those in private residences, under the “Noah Clause,” and could extend protection to other animals living in captivity after consulting with species experts.

Senator Sinclair was chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which made recommendations for the aftermath of the Indian residential schools nightmare in Canada. Bill S-218 acknowledges that animals and humans are connected, and has at its heart the principles of conservancy and stewardship that are very much in line with Indigenous principles.

In a Nov. 17 news release announcing the bill, Sinclair called Jane Goodall “a hero who inspires us to do better by all creatures of creation with whom we share this earth.”

“Named in Dr. Goodall’s honour, this bill will create laws to better protect many animals, reflecting Indigenous values of respect and stewardship,” the senator said in the release.

“We live in a time, and a world, where respecting and caring for one another, and our shared planet is the only way forward,” said Dr. Goodall in the release. “As humans around the world accept that animals are sentient beings, there is a growing call for improved living conditions and treatment of captive animals."

The press release notes there are at least 53 chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and elephants living in captivity. The bill also seeks to impose a stricter ban on the importation of elephant ivory into Canada, and to prohibit the importation of hunting trophies.

This bill is sending a strong message that how we treat animals matters greatly, and that we are all connected. If Bill S-218 passes in the senate, Member of Parliament Nate Erskine-Smith has agreed to sponsor the bill in the House of Commons. Should it become law, and I sincerely hope it will, Canada will have some of the strongest animal protection legislation in the world.

I will be studying this bill closely with my animal law study group and my students.

Access to justice for animals in 2020 and beyond

In my 20-plus years of animal law practice, I have not seen a law like this that values animals for their intrinsic worth, above being mere property. I believe this bill is ground-breaking and will send ripples of change through our animal protection legislation from coast to coast. In introducing greater access to justice for animals, I believe the bill will be part of a great wave of change in animal law over the next 10 years.

Looking at other animal law news this year, we have seen how animal lives matter. During COVID-19's rampage across Canada, provincial solicitors general elected to keep veterinary clinics and shelters open as essential services.

Earlier this month the Ontario government established an advisory panel of animal experts and stakeholders to develop new regulations under its Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, nicknamed the PAWS Act, which came into force in January. The PAWS Act is laudable for being a provincially funded and run enforcement regime. Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones stated in a Nov. 16 press release: "Having launched Canada's first provincial government-based enforcement model, recruited inspectors and introduced the toughest penalties for animal abuse in the country, we will continue to work with our partners to ensure the best protection and support for animals."

We had other good news in 2020 in the form of Canada's first Animal Law Pro-Bono Clinic (ALPC), launched in October. I'm gratified to have helped establish and to have stayed on as ad hoc volunteer legal advisor for this first-of-a-kind clinic run by the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program in Vancouver. Some of my former animal law students are acting as student clinicians, and the ALPC is a tremendous benefit for folks unable to afford legal services on behalf of their animals.

Animal law issues are pressing, and gaining momentum. Cases are being filed at the top court in the land and at lower appellate levels. In January, we had disappointing news from the Supreme Court of Canada that our case for Punky Santics, Canada's “everydog,” was refused leave. Despite this, Punky and his case leave a legacy simply by being granted leave to appeal, and by being considered by the Supreme Court for appeal. The case has affected municipal animal legislation as well.

2020 will be viewed as a good start to a decade where animals are recognized as beings in their own right, with intrinsic worth. Legislation such as the Jane Goodall Act is part of a new way of protecting animals by legislators and, in time, by the courts; and I predict we will see more laws recognizing animals as more than property.

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