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Is it meaningful to have Animal Rights Day?

Wednesday, December 21, 2022 @ 9:07 AM | By V. Victoria Shroff

V. Victoria Shroff %>
V. Victoria Shroff
Human Rights Day is celebrated on Dec. 10 every year honouring the adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sadly, it is not hard to see from the daily innumerable violations and atrocities perpetrated against humans that we still have a long way to go in terms of humans having full rights of equality, dignity, liberty, freedom from torture and so much more. Human rights are very much a work in progress requiring constant vigilance and enforcement.

Human rights lawyer and CBA-BC president Aleem Bharmal summarized what Human Rights Day means to him: “... never be complacent and to always be actively pushing forward and advocating to make our society more inclusive and welcoming. This means never being a silent witness to discrimination or oppression and to always be standing up for fairness and justice.” (Twitter, Dec. 9, 2022)

How do human rights relate to animal law or rights?

For just over a decade, Dec. 10 is also International Animal Rights Day. Much of what we do as animal law lawyers comes down to halting the killing or the harming of animals whether in the criminal or civil context, agricultural arena, the use and abuse of animals, we are still working on animals having adequate welfare, let alone rights.

The furry, finned and fluked are highlighted on Dec. 10, not so much for the rights they have, but to bring awareness to the void of protections. Wild and domesticated animals should be treated with respect and kindness; they should at least have their basic welfare met, but for most animals, this is still far from reality.

Every day, animals are still used as entertainers, live in cramped cages, dogs are put on death row, animals are routinely used and abused by humans in a myriad of ways. Clearly, we’re still working on realizing animal welfare baselines. (In the past few months, I’ve been interviewed for documentaries trying to shine a light on animal testing, barriers to housing, criminal laws, use and abuse of rodents, difficult lives of rabbits and dogs on death row.)

2022 examples

Animals are sentient beings, yet we still have brutal wildlife “killing contests” in Canada.

In the luxury commodity industry of fur for fashion, animals are still purpose-raised and killed for their fur in Canada. In 2022, we (lawyers at Arvay Finlay and I) argued in B.C. Supreme Court about a fur farm licence relating to chinchillas who are farmed for their fur as luxury goods. (See: Assn. for The Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals v. British Columbia (Chief Veterinarian) [2022] B.C.J. No. 1477. The B.C. Supreme Court found that the issue raised in the chinchilla judicial review was “important.” 

 I am satisfied the issue raised is an important one in the relevant sense.   

Attending in superior court, being granted public interest standing, or to not have a case dismissed for mootness as we did in this case, is significant in animal law cases.

The Quebec Court of Appeal recently heard summary arguments for halting a deer slaughter or “cull” in a park in the city of Longueuil. (Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Ville de Longueuil 2022 QCCA 1690. White-tailed deer living in a municipal park were said to have become too numerous, that they were a nuisance and the city planned to have around 100 deer killed using crossbows.

The Montreal SPCA and Sauvetage Animal Rescue fought back. In a weighing up of irreparable harm that would be caused by killing the deer versus the inconvenience to the municipality in granting the appeal, the court came down in favour of the appellants animal organizations. The December 2022 appeal ruling held that the Quebec Superior Court erred in not allowing an injunction to halt the hunt in Michel-Chartrand Park until the spring. The Appeal Court stated why it granted the stay:

The summary evidence shows that the deer calving period begins in the spring. It is therefore likely that the livestock population will be relatively stable by then and that, insofar as the case on the merits proceeds quickly, the harm to the public interest invoked by the City should not worsen, while that which the appellants would incur if the deer slaughter began would become irreparable.

This is a significant, albeit temporary, animal law win until the case is heard on its merits.

Surely, there must be a more humane solution based on co-existence rather than slaughtering the deer. Indigenous knowledge keepers should be consulted about wildlife management and stewardship.

Human, animal issues overlap

Animals having rights is still mostly aspirational, but it is important to realize that: “Helping animals gain rights does not take away from other groups, it enhances them. In fact, how we as a society treat animals is an important yard stick for how we are conducting ourselves as humans.” Canadian Animal Law (LexisNexis 2021)

Human and animal law issues overlap. In November 2022, I was invited to present on animal law at CLE B.C.’s Human Rights Conference on a panel with lawyers Kristen Woo and Harmit Sarai regarding emotional support animals. The intersection of animal and human needs through the example of emotional support animals underscores overlapping vulnerabilities of animals and humans and the difficulties they face.

Animals can be a lifeline in many different ways for humans, including those facing precarious housing. Listen: The challenges of owning a pet while in poverty, CBC Radio

Companion animals are rightly thought of by most Canadians to be family members. While most cases involving “pet custody” settle privately, we have seen some limited recognition for animals as family members in the law, though it’s not consistent. Along with others, I was recently asked to comment on the family law modernization project specifically B.C. Family Law Act (FLA) provisions on division of pets; i.e., what I call “pet custody” and was pleased to share my views on treating animals as having interests of their own instead of as inanimate property.

Courts have been expressing important considerations relating to companion animal welfare for decades. One of the classic cases is Rogers v. Rogers, [1980] O.J. No. 2229:

In holding that the best interest of the dog is not the prime consideration, I am mindful that a dog has feelings, is capable of affection, needs to be shown affection ... that its needs must be provided for and that, generally, it must be treated humanely ...

Rogers was referred to by the court in Oh v. City of Coquitlam 2018 BCSC 986:

 ... it is also clear that in Canada there is a legal requirement that animals (and in particular dogs and cats) be treated ‘humanely’ unlike any inanimate personal possession.

Animal law issues transcend provincial boundaries 

Undoubtedly, provincial animal laws are important, but many animal law issues transcend provincial boundaries. A good example of this is the groundbreaking federal Jane Goodall Bill S-241. For details see, Canada’s game-changing Jane Goodall Act: Global rise of sentience.   

Though I’m based in Vancouver, I’ve been fortunate to chair our national Canadian Animal Law Study Group since 2019 with member-lawyers coast to coast. We liaise with lawyers, lawmakers and others interested in animal law issues throughout Canada.

In 2020, a veteran animal law colleague and I proposed the establishment of the first National Section in Animal Law for the Canadian Bar Association (CBA). Our proposal was submitted, and we are waiting to see what happens. As we work toward stronger protections for animals, we believe, as do others, that it will be beneficial to have another national voice for animal law through this forum.

In sum, while we strive for access to justice for all species, it remains meaningful to have designated days for animals (and humans) on the calendar to illuminate and address inequity.

P.S. For any law students reading this, there’s an animal law essay contest on now until Jan. 7, 2023. The essay question is: “Describe an area of Canadian law you’d like to change to make the lives of animals better” Details: Animal Law Essay Contest

V. Victoria Shroff is one of the first animal law practitioners in Canada and the longest serving in B.C. Practising animal law for over 20 years at Shroff and Associates in Vancouver, she is also erstwhile adjunct professor of animal law at UBC’s Allard School of Law and faculty, Capilano University. Shroff is recognized locally and internationally as an animal law expert and is frequently interviewed by media. Her book, Canadian Animal Law is available at LexisNexis Canada store. Reach her at, @shroffanimallaw or LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

Photo credit / Carter

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