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Proposed Jane Goodall Act game-changing animal law breakthrough | Victoria Shroff

Wednesday, November 25, 2020 @ 2:29 PM | By Victoria Shroff

Victoria Shroff %>
Victoria Shroff
There’s a brand new animal protection bill just released that could “pawsitively” change Canadian animal law forever. I can think of no greater impact to animal law in recent times than the proposed game-changing Jane Goodall Act, Bill S-218.

The groundbreaking animal law protection bill was put forward in November 2020 by Sen. Murray Sinclair of Manitoba, retired justice and champion for animals, with the full support of powerful primatologist Jane Goodall. It’s An act to amend the Criminal Code and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Inter provincial Trade Act (great apes, elephants and certain other animals (Bill-218). 

More than property: Amplifying animal voices through animal rights

Senator Sinclair told the Toronto Star that “the bill is based on the principle that animals have rights.”

“That’s the principle that some people have a difficult time getting their heads around,” he said. “At the very least, (animals) have the right to personal safety and protection. They have the right to be treated humanely.”

I received a copy of the bill from lawyer Marty McKendry, senior adviser — Parliamentary Strategy to Sens. Sinclair and Pierre Dalphond, and when I read the preamble I was truly awestruck with the magnitude of understanding, of the inherent empathy and compassion in the wording, the recognition of animals having intrinsic worth. In other words, animals are being seen and would be treated as more than mere property. In a column I wrote about animals as commodities not long ago, I said we would need a “rethink” to take animals out of the property paradigm.

“As I have said for years to my animal law students and my animal law clients, if society truly wants to move away from the commodification of animals as property to be bought and sold, we’re going to need a legal rethink.” (Please see: Ailing parrot case speaks to commodification of animals.) 

Nii-konasiitook: All my relations

I think that rethink may potentially have just happened with this new bill. Sinclair’s bill recognizes that we need to consider an animal’s best interests, as individuals, and as various species. Employing the concept of “nii-konasiitook,” all my relations, Sinclair succinctly wrote:

“Whereas the phrase ‘All My Relations’ expresses an Indigenous understanding that all life forms of Creation are interconnected and interdependent; Whereas science, empathy and justice require us to respect the biological and ecological characteristics and needs of animals; Whereas cetaceans, great apes, elephants and certain other non-domesticated animals ought not to be kept in captivity, except for justifiable purposes such as their best interests — including individual welfare and conservation — and non-harmful scientific research; Whereas a ban on trade in elephant ivory and the collection of elephant hunting trophies in Canada will help to conserve elephant populations and encourage bans in other countries; Whereas Parliament may enact criminal laws and laws to regulate international trade and commerce in relation to animals, and provincial legislatures may enact laws in relation to property and civil rights, including granting legal standing to captive cetaceans, great apes, elephants and certain other non-domesticated animals, thus enabling orders in their best interests by their own right; And whereas the subject matter of non-domesticated captive animals has a double aspect of shared federal and provincial jurisdiction”;

Rights of nature, reconciliation, Indigenous wisdom

At second reading of the bill on Nov. 19, 2020, in the Senate, Sinclair said that animals are legally treated as property right now and only protected from intentional cruelty and neglect. This statement acknowledges the intrinsic worth of animals and in itself is amazing. It’s about moving toward reconciliation with the earth, sentient beings, including animals.

As chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the dark period of Canadian history, the residential schools, Sinclair underlines Indigenous foundations of stewardship, the interconnectedness of humans, the earth, and animals. In a senatorial press release published Nov. 17, 2020, Sinclair stated:

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

“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. “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.”

Legal systems the world over treat animals and nature as property to be legally used by individuals, by corporations.The words used by Sinclair are deliberate. He’s attempted to take into account the whole, not just parts of the problem, by choosing to harness Indigenous values in recognizing and honouring the rights of nature. This is consistent with the idea that all lives — human and animal — are connected and affected by the other, we can see the rights of nature coming into view, maybe even reconciliation. Instead of being owned, rights of nature — being a jurisprudential, legal theory — embraces the whole ecosystem, including of course the species within it where animals and resources are not owned or used, but are interconnected and matter. Laws are coming to terms with the rights of nature in different forms, including animals. Legal rights are being given to rivers and animals.

Human rights and rights of animals can be taken on as part of a similar piece.COVID-19 has demonstrated without question that human and animal survival are inextricably linked. (Please see: COVID-19 and the impact on animals.) We need to protect humans, nature and animals as they all interlace and overlap. A one health system, or as Sinclair rightly summarizes interconnectedness, “all my relations.”

Undoubtedly, I will be unpacking this animal law bill at my upcoming animal law conferences, in the classroom and at our B.C. Animal Law Study Group.

In the next part of this article, I’ll continue my contextual analysis of the proposed animal protections and access to justice for animals afforded by the Jane Goodall Act.

This is the first of a multi-part article.

Victoria Shroff is one of the first and longest serving animal law practitioners in Canada. She has been practising animal law civil litigation for over 20 years in Vancouver at Shroff and Associates and she is erstwhile adjunct professor of animal law at UBC’s Allard Hall Law School. She is recognized internationally as an animal law expert and is frequently interviewed by media. Reach her at or LinkedIn.

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