Is it time for the rights of animals in Canada?

Women’s rights. Civil rights. Disability rights. What about rights for animals? Some people will neither like nor feel comfortable with the idea that we need to start thinking seriously about the rights of animals. Folks may say we still have problems with human rights and now you're suggesting we need to consider animals and their rights?

Victoria Shroff

Women’s rights. Civil rights. Disability rights. What about rights for animals?

Some people will neither like nor feel comfortable with the idea that we need to start thinking seriously about the rights of animals. Folks may say we still have problems with human rights and now you're suggesting we need to consider animals and their rights?

Yes.

It's not an either-or equation because rights and compassion are not finite. Animals and humans share the same planet, so showing compassion and empowering a disenfranchised group, including animals, will enhance society as a whole. Putting animals' needs and rights on the agenda does not take away from other oppressed groups when the moral barometer is sentience. It should be uncontroversial to state that vulnerable groups, both human and animal, deserve protection under the law. Animal laws and the rights and welfare of animals under the law forces an analysis as to what is the very purpose of the law.

Animal law encompasses tort, property, contract, defamation, wildlife issues and violations, vet malpractice, breeder issues, animals in captivity, dangerous dogs, farmed animals, animal custody, wills, cruelty, therapy animals, product liability and a host of claims involving an animal and substantive law. The list is endless, but the legal conclusion to most legal analyses nearly always rests with the idea that animals are property in the eyes of the law. Skimming over the history of animal law in Canada, it's clear that cases, however few are reported, go back years. Animal law is not a new area of law, and courses in animal law at Canadian law schools aren’t either. For example, the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia  where I have taught animal law for the past few years had its first class in animal law back in 2004 (thanks to Professor Vaughan Black for initiating it). University of Toronto, University of Victoria, Dalhousie, University of Alberta, McGill and more have also had animal law classes for over 10 years. 

Animal law has matured as a discipline both in practice and in the scholarship to the point where it is time to have a serious conversation about the rights of animals and the laws that affect them.  Regardless of how you may feel about the issue, the conversation is pressing.  Take for example the 2015 case of Dr. Anita Krajnc, the Ontario Professor and animal activist who gave water to pigs in a truck who were on the way to slaughter. R. v. Krajnc, 2017 ONCJ 281 Krajnc said she was merely trying to be compassionate by giving thirsty pigs water, but she was charged with criminal mischief. The world watched her court case as it pitted animals as property – specifically meat – versus the rights of animals. After five days of hearing, an Ontario Superior Court Justice found Krajnc not guilty.

Another dispute which pitted societal recognition of sentient non-human animals with humans was Reece v Edmonton (City), 2011 ABCA 238. The groundbreaking Alberta Court Of Appeal case focused on the rights of private individuals to intervene for animals and garnered a lot of attention for Lucy the middle-aged, lone elephant in the Edmonton Zoo. For years, Lucy's advocates tried to move her to a sanctuary as she was, by many accounts, miserable in the zoo. An empathic dissent was written by Chief Justice Fraser who took exception with the decision of her colleagues Justices Slatter and Costigan. In her examination of animal welfare statutes, Fraser displayed a strong concern for Lucy and her welfare. She highlighted the purpose of legislative rules to protect animals who are in constant need of protection from human interests. She emphasized difficulties in enforcement, hence the imperative for Courts to interpret laws and obligations toward animals generously and the need for public interest standing.

“ [71] ... inadequate consideration of animals’ interests in law-making; priority for human interests always; restrictive judicial interpretation of protective legislation; common law precepts that treat animals as property and deny them or their advocates legal standing; limitations on what constitutes legitimate legal argument; restrictions on what is accepted as evidence; and anaemic enforcement of animal protection legislation. Understanding the nature and extent of these deficiencies....is important since they underscore why courts should interpret the animal protection laws we do have generously.... “

It is 2019 and lawyerly and societal interest in animal law has continued to grow. News headlines show that society values animals more than ever and not just companion animals like cats and dogs, but also wildlife, lab and farmed animals.  People caring about animals does not mean that we no longer have animal cruelty, animals used for economic gain or crimes against animals, but we do have an increasing number of people who treat their animals just like family members, (sometimes even better than their two legged companions!). Every single client who I have met in my more than19 years of practicing animal law knows that their animal is a unique sentient individual. The very last thing that clients think is that their animal is a breathing hunk of property. Property does not have rights. Individuals have rights. Animals have not been given individual intrinsic rights – isn’t it time to examine this issue?


 

Victoria Shroff is one of the first and longest serving animal law practitioners in Canada. She has been practicing animal law for almost 20 years in Vancouver at Shroff & Associates and has been recognized for her work in animal law. She is also erstwhile adjunct professor of animal law at UBC’s Allard Hall Law School, is frequently interviewed by media and has lectured widely on the topic. Ms. Shroff is founder of a social literacy and animal law program called 'Paws of Empathy'. You can connect with her at @shroffanimallaw , LinkedIn or https://experts.news.ubc.ca/expert/victoria-shroff/

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